June 16, 2019

Thomaston panel mulls fate of old prison

THOMASTON — Tear it down, landscape the property and give it back to Thomaston, a town panel suggested as the state considers ways to reuse the 150-year-old Maine State Prison.

The state Department of Corrections plans to close the prison in November 2001 when it finishes an 886-bed addition to the Maine Correctional Institution — known as the Supermax — in nearby Warren.

In an attempt to meet budget-planning deadlines, the state asked the town to come up with suggestions for the property by Sept. 1. Any costs related to the closure of the prison must be appropriated in the next budget cycle, which begins in January.

The committee’s recommendation comes after three public meetings with consultants and state representatives and two tours of the facility by town officials. The town also solicited suggestions from the public through a survey sent to residents in the town’s July newsletter.

There were 137 responses from some 925 questionnaires mailed to residents. Using the responses, the comprehensive plan committee drew its recommendations.

The panel suggested that the state ensure the 6-acre parcel be free of toxic, hazardous and other wastes before giving the land to the town. It also suggests that the facility be photographed and its history be documented.

According to a report issued to the Board of Selectmen, the community survey indicated most residents want the prison store to remain at its Route 1 location.

The findings of the questionnaire also showed that many people want the probation office relocated elsewhere and that all prison properties on the north side of Route 1 be returned to private use, according to the report. The probation and parole office is situated in one of those buildings, as is housing previously used by the warden.

James Gregg, chairman of the comprehensive plan committee, could not be reached for comment Monday.

During the public meetings, some other uses were suggested for the prison, including: town office, museum, prison store, recreation center, amphitheater and commercial office space or a combination of those uses.

The estimated cost of demolishing the buildings, according to consultants, would be in the millions of dollars, although no firm quote has been obtained.

Options for the buildings started at $1.3 million to “mothball” the facility and maintain it with minimum security. The most expensive alternative was estimated at $20 million and involves demolishing all buildings, filling a massive quarry and build a 16,000-square-foot office space and 100-unit senior citizen housing and assisted living facility.

All of the potential uses would have included keeping the prison showroom, as well as a couple of buildings across from the store that would be used for support services.

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