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Published: Wednesday, 3/12/2008

Panel supports razing of closed prison in Lima

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The best fate for the shuttered Lima Correctional Institution is probably a wrecking ball, a state panel said yesterday.

Determining that the price tag for restoring the roughly 90-year-old building into an active prison or replacing it would be too high, the panel recommended demolition to make way for some other use of the site.

"I don't think a lot of people are shocked that it's going to be very expensive to open a former building as a prison or really for almost any purpose," said Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), a member of the Lima Correctional Institution Study Committee.

The committee was established last year to determine the best use of what was once a 2,200-inmate, minimum-security prison and its site. The prison was mothballed four years ago to save the state $25 million a year. The move displaced 500 full-time employees.

The committee's final report is due on the desks of the governor, speaker of the Ohio House, and Senate president by April 1.

The report will recommend that the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction pursue demolition, with the possible exception of a smaller vocational educational building that could be modified for use as some form of correctional facility. The state could then try to sell the approximately 80-acre campus for new development.

The report also suggested that, should DRC consider expansion in the future, the Lima site could be given preference. It suggested construction of three 500-bed facilities at a cost of $17.8 million, to be operated as extensions of the nearby Allen Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison for men, and Oakwood Correctional Facility, a psychiatric prison.

The committee also suggested another alternative: adding 750 prison beds in existing facilities.

"What that essentially does is bring prison population back to that campus," said Mr. Huffman. "For Lima and west central Ohio, that means that the jobs will be coming back if these recommendations that we've made today are adopted by DRC and ultimately by the governor."

But the likelihood that cash-strapped Ohio will invest in the expansion of prisons is slim, said Terry Collins, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He is chairman of the committee.

"There's no guarantee that beds will go anywhere, because I haven't been a proponent of new beds," Mr. Collins said.

"When you build things, they'll come. And the Heery [International, Inc.] report indicated that building a new prison was $200-some million I think there should be other alternatives, and I continue to promote other alternatives," he said.

Mr. Collins was not director when Lima was closed, but he was on staff and played a role in the decision.

"The department was looking to save dollars, and it did save the dollars," he said.

"It was a good decision. It was the right decision. It was a business decision," Mr. Collins said. "When you're in state government, people say you should operate like a business.

"But when you operate like a business, people say, don't do it to me."



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