May 24, 2020

Officials face problem of what to do with former county jail in Rockland

ROCKLAND — With a new county jail now nearing the halfway point in construction, the question arises of what to do with the “old” jail.

On Thursday, a jail study committee heard a suggestion to turn the jail into a children’s museum. The committee also will ask the Bureau of Mental Health and Retardation if it would have any interest in creating a satellite facility in the jail.

Sheriff Daniel Davey said the jail is a perfect location for a museum, as it is located across the street from a large playground. But he advised that “the county commissioners will go with anything that won’t cost any money.” The committee will make a recommendation on the future of the jail to commissioners who will make the final decision, which could include demolition.

Officials estimated that it would take $40,000 to demolish the jail and $150,000 to fully renovate it. The demolition would be complicated by the existence of an outstanding note of $100,000 from a previous renovation.

Neither the Maine State Police nor the U.S. Marshal’s Office has expressed any interest in using the jail as a holding facility. The county sheriff’s office is not interested in running both the old and new facility because of expense.

Gail Dresser and other officials of the Midcoast Children’s Museum notified the committee on Thursday of their interest in the building. The group requested more time to get estimates together. The museum would consider sharing the space with another tenant. The museum group was founded in 1985 and boasts 417 members.

Any rental agreement would require a decision on renovation costs, said Rep. Jack McCormick, R-Rockport. He said expensive heating and electrical work would be needed. He suggested that the current sheriff’s residence, next to the old jail, could be renovated to hold juveniles.

But Sheriff Davey said a juvenile center in the existing facility would not be cost effective. The area will be required to build a juvenile care center by 1992, according to Jail Administrator Ray Voyer.

The greatest need is a facility to handle about 25 “street people” who revolve in and out of the county jail. Voyer said about 25 people constantly are jailed when they need treatment.

Several officials criticized state agencies which release inmates who constantly cause trouble in the area. The rejection of the prison bond issue is expected to force more and more people into county jails, Voyer said. It is a bad idea to mix mentally ill people with criminals, he said.

Any mental health facility should be paid for by the state, not the county, Rep. McCormick said. He said the state is “shirking its duties” by forcing jail administration off onto the counties.

Committee members agreed to inquire with the Department of Mental Health and Retardation and withhold a final decision until Jan. 15.

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