Big house. Big ideas. Big hopes.

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:39

Mid-Orange Advisory Committee draws 90 residents to brainstorm ideas for former prison property Warwick — While the state is draining pipes and boarding up windows at its former prison site, 90 residents met with the Town of Warwick Mid-Orange Advisory Committee last week to shared their goals, visions and ideas for the property. Although the state owns the 772 acre-property, the town wants a say in redeveloping the site pursuant to the Warwick’s Comprehensive Plan. Last August, once the state had made it known that Mid-Orange would be one of six prisons across the state to be closed to save money, the town board voted unanimously to amend the property on the zoning map from the rural (RU) and conservation (CO) districts to the office and industrial park (OI) district. OI zoning has no residential uses, only commercial. “(Mid-Orange) is one of the most important events that’s going to happen in Warwick, certainly within my lifetime,” said Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton at the end of the advisory committee meeting on Dec. 7. Town officials and the committee want to provide “long-lasting job opportunities as well as tax revenues for the town,” said the welcome letter given to attendees and signed by town attorney John Hicks, who chairs the advisory committee; the committee’s legal subcommittee is chaired by Jeremy Havens. The other subcommittees are community outreach chaired by Geoffrey Howard, facilities chaired by Andrew McLaughlin, interaction chaired by Richard Hull, and records chaired by Peter Hall. Pool, power plant, towers Among the structures that garnered the most interest during the breakout sessions were the Olympic-size swimming pool, large kitchen and steam generating power plant. The site includes 81 buildings that mostly are in good or excellent condition as well as myriad outdoor facilities including elevated observation towers and athletic courts. Most of the property is wetlands and the former guard towers could serve for bird watching. After an introduction that included projected pictures of the grounds, eight groups brainstormed for 40 minutes. The extensive list of specific ideas included a mushroom farm, distillery, hotel, restaurant, conference center, film production facility, culinary institute, slaughterhouse, food processing facility, flea market, farmers market, casino, vocational school, demonstration facility, senior citizen housing, private prison, grain mill, summer camp, boarding school, medical offices, artist studios, computer server farm, solar or wind farm, cold storage, equestrian center, banquet hall, resort, performing arts center, agricultural institute, and hostel for walkers of the nearby Appalachian Trail. Next steps After facilitators counted all of the green dots that represented votes, each of the groups reported their most popular ideas, which concentrated around education, agriculture, hospitality, tourism, green technology, and art. “The word prison gives the wrong idea,” said Howard, who led the visioning meeting and showed pictures of the beautiful and historic former prison and its grounds that include Wickham Lake. Once the state completes the surplusing process of draining pipes and boarding up first-story windows through the giant facility, the Office of General Services will take care of it until the state can sell it. Next steps for the advisory committee is to contacting those who volunteered to serve on a subcommittee, writing the report and figuring out what to do with all that razor wire - all this on an accelerated timetable. As Sweeton said: “We want to be ahead of that step and present a viable plan.” Prison property inventory Here’s what you’ll find at the former Mid- Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick: Total acres: 772 Total buildings: 81 Cottages: 16 160-year old manor house Five or six other major residences Administrative building Three-story schoolhouse Industrial training building Two or three large halls and theatres Physical fitness center built in 1972 Large dairy barn and chicken coop Two Division of Industries or CorCraft buildings Maintenance and storage buildings Power plant Museum of still-working 1920s generators and turbines Access to Wickham Lake Guard towers Two basketball courts Two handball courts Little League baseball field (Mid-Orange) is one of the most important events that’s going to happen in Warwick, certainly within my lifetime.... We want to be ahead of that step and present a viable plan.” Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton Notions, ideas and recommendations Residents who came to the Mid-Orange Advisory Committee’s visioning meeting last week were asked to focus their ideas around the following themes: education, agriculture, hospitality, tourism, green technology and art. And here’s some of their ideas: Mushroom farm Distillery Hotel Restaurant Conference center Film production facility Culinary institute Slaughterhouse Food processing facility Flea market Farmers market Casino Vocational school Demonstration facility Senior citizen housing Private prison Grain mill Summer camp Boarding school Medical offices Artist studios Computer server farm Solar or wind farm Cold storage Equestrian center Banquet hall Resort Performing arts center Agricultural institute Hostel for walkers of the nearby Appalachian Trail