CUMBERLAND -- More than 600 people filled the auditorium at Allegany Community College in a public hearing last night to show their support for a proposed state prison in the county.
Wearing buttons saying "Allegany County says Yes for state prison" and carrying signs backing the proposed prison, area residents heeded the call of County Commissioner John Stotler. He urged the crowd to "not let this opportunity slip away."
Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services which sponsored the hearing, said the proposed medium- and maximum-security prison would hold up to 2,500 inmates.
It would be a "small city, needing all the services of a small city," the secretary said.
Officials estimate that the prison would result in about 750 permanent jobs and an annual payroll of about $23 million. It would have an effect on a variety of businesses in the community that would service the complex.
In a county with a depressed economy hurt by plant closings, those projections brought out strong support for the prison.
"We need the jobs," commented Christine Conner, 30, of Cumberland.
"It would have a big economic impact, like a domino effect, with all the services they will need out there."
Margaret A. Shafferman, 48, of Cumberland, said the prison is an opportunity to stop the county's younger population from leaving for other opportunities. "I have five kids graduating from college and high school, and they all plan on leaving because there is no work or future here," she said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by William J. Pifer Sr., 42, also of Cumberland, a construction worker who hopes to be on BTC the job building the prison. "I have an 18-year-old and 14-year-old son and they'll need the work or they'll have to go out of town for work."
Mr. Robinson said the state is looking at five potential sites in the county, although he did not say where those locations are. He said if the county gets the prison, he expects groundbreaking to begin by August 1992.
He said the prison would be constructed in phases, with the first phase being the minimum security portion and support buildings. The entire complex would be finished within four to five years of groundbreaking, Mr. Robinson said.
The public hearing was as much for state officials to gauge support for the prison as it was to inform residents of the plans. Some critics have said the problems that will come with a prison will not be worth the benefits, and have expressed security concerns.