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State seeks to unload 123-acre Hempfield prison site

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The state wants to sell the 123-acre parcel containing the soon-to-be-closed state prison in Hempfield, a site that Westmoreland County officials said Monday would be good for an office park or another kind of job-creating, taxpaying business.

“I want to see something that will create jobs and pay taxes. We want the maximum economic impact for the county,” said county Commissioner Charles Anderson.

State Correctional Institution-Greensburg, which the state values at $1.5 million, is one of 13 surplus properties the Department of General Services wants to sell this year, according to the plan the department presented Monday to the Senate Government Committee. General Services estimates it would cost the state about $2 million a year to properly maintain the 32 buildings at the site.

The Hempfield lockup will be included on a list of properties to be offered for sale and submitted to Gov. Tom Corbett for final approval by June 15. Before the state will ready the property for sale, the state House and Senate would have to approve the plan, which may not occur until the new fiscal year that begins July 1, said Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the General Services department.

If the plan is approved, the state would get a formal appraisal of the value of the property before it is marketed, Thompson said.

The Corrections Department announced in January that it was closing SCI-Greensburg because of the higher costs of operating the 44-year-old facility, compared with the $200 million prison in Benner Township, which is north of State College. The Hempfield lockup had 950 inmates in January, but now has only about 500 remaining to be transferred to the new prison in Centre County. The transfer is expected to be completed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, said Susan McNaughton, a Corrections Department spokeswoman.

SCI-Greensburg had about 400 jobs when the closing was announced, but only about 290 jobs remain, McNaughton said.

The prison site along Route 119, a few miles south of Route 30 and north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's New Stanton interchange, would be ideal for a business, Anderson said.

“We'll see who steps up and buys it,” Anderson said.

Westmoreland County will not be one of those potential buyers, Anderson said. The county is not interested in purchasing the property or trying to market it through the county's Industrial Development Corp. Anderson said. The industrial development agency has developed 17 industrial parks.

The site would be good for an office park, but not for industrial development because the topography is sloped and the only level property is where the prison sits, said James Smith, president of the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland.

“We are pushing to have the Department of General Services aggressively market the property,” said state. Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield.

The critical factor in successfully marketing the property would be demolishing the prison, Smith said.

Demolition costs have been estimated at about $15 million.

“It would be much better to demolish it than spending all that money ($2 million a year) and watching it deteriorate,” Anderson said.

State Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, said he anticipates learning more about the state's plans for marketing and selling the property when the General Services department officials testify before the House State Government Committee on Wednesday.

Krieger said he wants to get some firm figures on demolition costs and plans for the property.

Legislators looked at the possibility of including an appropriation in the state budget to handle the demolition costs, Ward said.

“At some point, it's going to be a total loss if they don't sell it,” Ward said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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