Allegany gets new prison area covets new jobs Proponents all set to 'jump with joy'

February 20, 1992|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Top state officials acted yesterday to put one of Maryland's few growth industries into Allegany County, approving a new state prison that will generate an estimated 1,000 new jobs and $60 million a year for Western Maryland's troubled economy.

Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, said Western Maryland lawmakers were ready to "jump with joy" now that work on the proposed $190

million, 2,550-inmate prison just south of Cumberland can finally get under way.

"This is going to help us get into the 21st century with a viable economy," Mr. Taylor told the Board of Public Works, which yesterday agreed to spend $113,195 to hire three firms to appraise the 180 acres at the former Celanese Corp. plant on U.S. 220 that the state wants to buy for the prison. The vote was tantamount to a go-ahead for construction.

If all goes as planned, demolition could begin this summer of the synthetic fiber manufacturing plant Celanese abandoned in 1983, and the first of 10 inmate-housing units could be ready for occupancy by the fall of 1994.

Construction of the prison, however, is expected to be phased in through 1997. When completed, the medium security facility is expected to offer job-starved Western Marylanders as many as 750 permanent jobs with an annual payroll estimated at $35 million.

But Delegate Taylor and state corrections officials predicted the spinoff effects of the prison will be even greater: another 250 support jobs and an estimated $27 million additional activity in the regional economy.

David N. Bezanson, deputy secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said that in addition to the economic benefits of the prison, the state simply needs another new prison to alleviate overcrowding that has forced the state to house inmates in gymnasiums, day rooms and visiting areas.

The state's current prison system was built to house 14,000 inmates but currently houses 18,876, and the population is growing at a rate of 100 additional inmates a month.

The state has set aside $9 million to buy the land and relocate businesses that now occupy the old Celanese site, and it expects to spend another $4 million for a design similar to the design used for the state's last major state prison, the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County. That prison, completed in 1987, cost the state $102 million in build.

But ECI, now filled with 2,460 inmates, is already scheduled to expand. The Board of Public Works, in a separate action yesterday, approved a $6.2 million contract to W.B. Venables & Sons Inc., of Laurel, Del., to build three new one-story housing units for 420 additional inmates plus a one-story kitchen and dining building at ECI.

State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, one of the board's three members, initially objected to the contract because the low bidder was a Delaware firm. But Mr. Goldstein relented yesterday after the principal contractor and five of his subcontractors assured the board that "90 percent" of the labor and supplies used on the job would be from Maryland firms.

They also uniformly said they opposed the use of "state preference" as a qualification for winning construction contracts in Maryland or Delaware, saying that their Eastern Shore firms depend on jobs in both states and that such efforts would be counterproductive.

"As close as the Delmarva Peninsula is knitted together, it would be tough to award jobs based on where they are from," Robert Venables told the board. In one other prison-related action, the board approved a new $25.3 million contract to Service America Corp. of Stamford, Conn., to provide all meals at the Baltimore City Detention Center for the next five years and to renovate the former city jail's kitchen.

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, said the average cost per meal under the new contract will drop from $1.85 to $1.04, a savings of 44 percent. The jail serves 9,139 meals a day to inmates and staff, or an estimated 18 million meals over the course of the contract, he said.

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