County moves closer to demolishing jail

By Debra J. Groom

It’s taken longer than expected, but the Oswego County legislature is getting closer to demolishing the old county jail in Oswego.

The legislature’s Old Jail Committee on Wednesday approved spending another $12,000 to complete four more steps to the environmental testing at the property and buildings on East River Road.

The additional work to be done by GHD Environmental in Salina consists of:

• Testing of samples taken from the septic tank on the property and soil at the river bank;
• Testing around the location of the septic tank to see exactly where the tank and any pipes running from it are located;
• Completing a full environmental report; and
• Explaining the report to the legislature.

The original contract for GHD’s environmental testing was for $13,350.

Legislator and committee member Jacob Mulcahey didn’t want the county to spend more money on additional tests at the site. He said a “for sale” sign should be put on the property immediately.

Legislator and committee chair Morris Sorbello disagreed, stating testing should be completed so contractors bidding on the demolition will know exactly what to expect when doing their work at the site.

“We should have had a ‘for sale’ sign on this property for the last six months,” Mulcahey said. “Buyers buy ‘as is’ all the time. Can’t we tear the building down without these tests?”

Sorbello, legislator and committee member Linda Lockwood, and Oswego County Administrator Philip Church said it is in the county’s best interest to do the tests.

“I think bids will be higher if there are any unknowns (on the property),” Church said.

“If they (contractors) know it’s clean, they’ll give you a better price,” Lockwood said.

Church said it should be at least a month until requests for proposals from contractors will be issued.

The Old Jail Committee decided Wednesday to obtain bids for each part of the site work (abatement, demolition, salvage) so legislature members can see and compare the costs for each portion of the project.

County officials agreed last year that the old county jail, built in 1909, is dilapidated and must be torn down.

Sorbello said last year the building would be demolished in the spring, but testing and studies have taken longer than expected.

Testing to date has found asbestos in the building and the roof in addition to the old septic tank that must be filled in.

Testing also was done on the steel in the cells to see if it was high quality that could be scrapped and sold, but Sorbello said the steel was not high-quality.

The old jail is located on land across the street from the present Oswego County Correctional Facility, which opened in 1994 and houses the jail, sheriff’s office, family court, county court and the district attorney’s office.

The old jail is a large, three-story building with the jail structure in the rear. The middle section was used as the sheriff’s and deputies’ offices and booking room.

Also on the same site is a one-story building that houses a Department of Motor Vehicles office and the county’s records center. County Clerk Michael Backus, who is in charge of the DMV and records center, on Wednesday voiced concern to the Old Jail Committee about the old jail demolition process and how it would affect customers coming to the DMV or records center.

It was agreed that this issue is important and will be addressed soon.

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