Immediate impact: Loss of 309 local jobs and $210,000 annual payment to sewer district, By Roger Gavan WARWICK - The question now is: Where do we go from here? Last Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick was on the list of seven prisons to be shut down to save the state money. The reason given was that 3,800 unused beds statewide will be eliminated, saving taxpayers $72 million in 2011-12 and $112 million in 2012-13. The final closing is expected to take place within 60 days of last week’s announcement. Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton reported that although there were rumors that Orange County might lose one of its prisons, he believed Otisville Correctional was more in play. And the governor’s office, he added, had not given him any advance notice. Orange County Legislator Albert Buckbee, whose district includes Mid-Orange, also admitted that he only learned about the closing from media reports issued the following day. “Gov. Patterson used to send us e-mails about decisions like this every day,” he said, “but that’s not the way it is today.” Immediate consequences Sweeton fears the short-term economic consequences of the closure could be severe. “It’s just a guess but probably half the people working there also live in Warwick,” he said. “Even if they are offered jobs at other prisons they may not wish to be uprooted with all that involves like selling their homes and taking their children out of school. And this is not a good real estate or job market.” Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard echoed those sentiments: “This is terrible,” he said. “We’ve been hearing about the possibility of prison closings, but we didn’t think it would happen here.” In addition to the economic impact, Newhard also pointed out that volunteer inmates have been performing useful services for the community such as street, road and park cleaning since the prison first opened. “Many of these services are performed early in the morning and most people may not even be aware of that,” he said. “Mid-Orange Correctional has been a good neighbor.” What the future holds for the site when it finally closes was not immediately clear. “I will be meeting with the governor’s staff,” said Sweeton. “But right now we have no additional information. And the state has a checkered past when it comes to disposing of properties.” Looking forward The supervisor, however, does believe that the long-term prospect could be positive. The town may be able to request economic development financing from a $50 million fund set up for communities affected by the closures. And the property would be well suited for an industrial park. Last weekend Sweeton contacted Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt and state Sen. David Carlucci, reiterating the town’s concerns and suggestions for going forward. “I have spoken with the Governor’s office and none of Mid-Orange’s 320 employees will be laid off,” Rabbitt said in a statement. “All employees will be reassigned to other facilities.” One of the serious problems with closing Mid-Orange is that the facility pays about half of the $420,000 budget of the sewer district it shares with about 540 nearby homes. That additional expense could fall on the shoulders of those homeowners. “I have asked for short-term aid to mitigate the loss of sewer revenue to offset a large increase for the remaining residential users,” said Sweeton. “I also asked for aid to craft a plan for site redevelopment so we can have a 'shovel ready’ commerce park. And I asked that the state treat the town as co-partners in controlling the future of the site so that local control prevails in ensuring good development.” Sweeton stressed that getting the site back on the tax rolls as soon as possible was critical and that he looks forward to meeting with the governor’s staff. “Long term and with state help,” he said, “we will definitely focus on the positive. This has good potential.” Michael Johndrow, executive director of the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce, offered a similar assessment: “Whenever a community like ours loses 309 jobs, it can have a serious impact on local businesses. However, we have to look forward and hopefully, we’ll find another use for the property that will have a positive impact on our economy.”
I also asked for aid to craft a plan for site redevelopment so we can have a 'shovel ready’ commerce park. And I asked that the state treat the town as co-partners in controlling the future of the site so that local control prevails in ensuring good development.” Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton
The state’s prison system has been too inefficient and too costly with far more capacity than what is needed to secure the state’s inmate population and ensure the public’s safety. This plan is the result of very careful and detailed analysis and deliberation. It succeeds in targeting facilities for closure without compromising public safety and will save taxpayers $184 million. We will work closely to ensure impacted areas are given substantial state aid to help them create jobs and transform their local economies. New York will continue to keep the highest standard of public safety and maintain one of the safest correctional systems in the country.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo
History The site of the present Mid-Orange Correctional Facility was originally the New York State Training School for Boys which was officially dedicated in 1932. The New York City Department of Corrections had purchased the property shortly after World War I but in 1932, the City traded it with the State for Randall’s Island, which the City needed for the building of the Triborough Bridge. The reform school was closed in 1976 and the following year the State opened the current correctional facility as a medium-security institution. The town road from Bellvale to Kings Highway, which crosses through the prison and is open to the public, is still named “State School Road.” The Manor House, now used for staff housing on the Mid-Orange grounds was built in 1840 on the foundations of a pre-Revolutionary War farmhouse.
Prospects The prison property, located on 772 secluded acres off Kings Highway in Warwick, includes 90 buildings. For a town starved for tax ratables because of its relative isolation, the upside of losing an operation with 309 employees is the potential conversion of a giant, tax-exempt property into a tax-generating one with new jobs. How good are the redevelopment prospects for Mid-Orange? The property’s proximity to Kings Highway helps because that thoroughfare ultimately connects commercial traffic to Route 17 - a key concern for potential businesses. Plus, the property already has water and sewer service. The repurposing of the site depends on how flexible the Town of Warwick will be with its rezoning.” According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the prison complex has 90 buildings encompassing a total of more than 564,000 square feet. The secured part of that operation occupies only 40 acres, a small piece of the state-owned land. Other sections are designated wetlands that couldn’t be developed. Orange County property records show that the full market value of that piece, including its buildings, is $49.1 million - well above what any developer would pay, said Burke, who suspects a buyer would tear down any structures except those with offices. Whatever redevelopment plans emerge could be supported by $50 million in economic development funds the state has budgeted for host communities affected by the impending closure of seven prisons.
Footnotes Crews of inmates are regularly placed at the service of other state agencies, doing maintenance work at the Bear Mountain State Park and on the state Thruway, for example. Others help out local governments and not-for-profit organizations: Inmates paint and shovel snow for local churches, clear brush and debris from roadsides and maintain local cemeteries and senior citizen centers. Inmates clean up Warwick’s Cascade Park and Little League baseball fields. Forty to 45 men work in the Corcraft (Correctional Industries) modular housing shop just outside the main compound. The shop, when it started production in 1985, was the first correctional program of its kind in the nation. It was introduced specifically to meet the need for new Family Reunion Program units. Since then, using an adaptable modular system, the shop has branched out to produce a variety of structures. These include visitors’ reception and hospitality units, office structures, a library for the village of Florida and classrooms for the Briarcliff and Spackenkill public school systems. Besides modular units, Mid-Orange now produces the blue barricades used by the New York City Police Department to block parade routes and crime scenes. For a short period in the mid-’90’s, the shop manufactured modular cells for S-blocks. Until his death in 1999, a frequent guest speaker at an Alternative Behavior Course offered at the Mid-Orange facility was Warwick resident Richard Kiley, the stage, film and TV actor best known for his Broadway portrayal of Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.” An average of 75 volunteers a year - doctors, insurance agents, bankers, attorneys, realtors and others - visit Mid-Orange to discuss their specialties and services, helping prepare inmates for release by broadening their perspectives and alerting them to opportunities and pitfalls. Source: The PrisonTalk Online web community