March 29, 2020
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Penobscot County Jail expansion vote delayed

Penobscot County voters will not be asked until 2018 to fund renovations at Bangor’s former YMCA building to ease jail overcrowding, according to County Commissioner Peter Baldacci.

A bond issue might be ready for voters in June but is more likely to be on the November 2018 ballot, Baldacci said Tuesday after touring the jail.

The county purchased the 50,000-square building at 127 Hammond Street across Court Street from the jail for $825,000 in April from the estate of William Buxton, who once hoped to turn the building into a denturist school. The building was home to the YMCA until 2011 when it merged with the YWCA on Second Street and moved operation to that facility.

The original YMCA was construction in 1902.

Penobscot County commissioners had said that they hoped to put a bond issue on this year’s November ballot.

Baldacci declined Tuesday to estimate what remodeling the building will cost.

“We want to do it right. And we want to do it smart,” he said.

The current jail, which is authorized to house 157 inmates, held 202 on Tuesday. The county is paying to house another 26 elsewhere, Sheriff Troy Morton told commissioners.

The cost of boarding inmates at other facilities, which averages $100 a day per inmate, has been cited as a major reason for expanding the jail into the former Y.

The Maine Department of Corrections appeared to support expansion in a July 11 report that rated the jail “deficient.”

“The criminal activity in Penobscot has outgrown the capacity of the jail…,” the report said. “As such the jail is overcrowded and unable to…provide adequate sight/sound separation between male and female inmates in the admission holding area.”

The report warned that those conditions could lead to lawsuits alleging that the county is violating inmates’ constitutional rights.

“Ultimately, this leaves the jail vulnerable to future civil action,” the report said. “There is optimism that the newly acquired YMCA property can be utilized for an expanded admission/holding area and additional housing to alleviate overcrowding and separation concerns.”

The inspection team also deemed the intake and shower areas overcrowded.
Morton has said he wants to move female prisoners, the intake area and 48-hour holding cells into the old Y. A section of that building also could be used for food storage, he said.

“We have so little storage space in the kitchen that we can’t really buy in bulk now,” he said. “Being able to do that would save on food costs.”

The county won’t need to use all of the building, the commissioner said.

“We need to figure out how much of it we can restore and how much of it needs to be torn down,” Baldacci said.

The portion on the Court Street side of the building, where CityReach Church held services, most likely would be torn down, County Administrator Bill Collins said. The central portion facing Hammond Street most likely would be renovated.

An ad hoc committee will be formed this fall with representatives from the jail, the district attorney’s office, the deeds’ office and the probate court, he said.

Once the committee makes recommendations about how to best use the new building and the space it has now, commissioners will seek estimates on renovations, hold a public hearing on the proposed plan and decide on how much money to seek from voters in a bond issue.

 


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