Stickel unsure of new prison | News, Sports, Jobs


HOLLIDAYSBURG — The chairman of the Blair County Prison Board said he’s not yet ready to endorse the idea of building a new prison.

But A.C. Stickel, also county controller, said he recognizes the inefficiencies of the current county prison and the need for something to be done.

Commissioners Bruce Erb and Laura Burke on Thursday voted in favor of signing a grant agreement to accept $184,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development’s Initiates Program to pay for a study that focuses on building a new prison.

While the county identified the cost of the study at $185,400, the paperwork from the state showed a $1,400 difference that the county may or may not have to cover.

Erb, who spoke of his appreciation for state Sen. Judy Ward’s efforts to secure the grant for the much-needed study, said Thursday that he won’t quibble over the slight difference.

“I’ll let (Ward) handle that,” Erb said with a smile and a chuckle.

Stickel said Thursday that he also appreciates the receipt of the study grant.

While the amount is “a drop in the bucket” in comparison to the cost of building a new prison, Stickel said the study will put county leaders in a better position to know what they are confronting.

“The study should give an idea of what we need and how we can do it,” he said.

The study, to be completed by TranSystems Corp. Consultants of Pennsylvania, the successor to L. Robert Kimball & Associates of Ebensburg, is expected to spell out the work involved in designing and building a prison to meet the county’s needs and desires. The study is also expected to identify potential sites, a preferred option and a projected cost.

Stickel said he is concerned not only about the cost of building a new prison but the cost of maintaining it.

“You can’t just build a new building and forget about it,” he said.

While a decision on building a new prison rests with the commissioners, the seven-member prison board — which includes the three commissioners, the controller, the district attorney, sheriff and president judge — is free to provide input.

In April, while discussing reasons linked to delays in restoring the inmate work release program, President Judge Elizabeth Doyle and District Attorney Pete Weeks spoke of their interest in a new prison and opportunities it could present.

After Tuesday’s meeting where Ward, R-Blair, announced the award of the study grant, Commissioner Amy Webster spoke in favor of moving toward constructing a new prison. Webster said she didn’t think it would be economically possible or practical to renovate the current prison.

The original portion of the prison was constructed in 1868, making that portion of the facility 154 years old. It has since been expanded and renovated to increase its inmate housing capacity. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prison was housing as many as 375 inmates. Since June, the daily population count has ranged between 296 and 336 inmates.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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