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County eyes uses for old jail in Canton

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County officials soon will hire an architectural engineering firm to study potential uses for the former jail on Judson Street.

Michael J. Cunningham, Governmental Services director, said he expects a request for qualifications will be issued in about a week. Responding companies will be reviewed and interviewed to help the Legislature decide which to hire, he said.

He said the scope of work is fairly general.

"The first thing is to review options for the existing jail in terms of partial renovation, complete renovation or demolition. They're going to look at any building code issues and conduct a hazardous material survey, and we'll have an option for the county to hire the same firm for a comprehensive space plan for all county buildings," he said.

The former jail building has been vacant since May, when inmates were moved to the county's new 164-cell jail on Commerce Lane.

The only current probable use for the building is as a home for the county's electronic voting machines, but there is a chance it ultimately could be used for storage or office space. Some county departments and state Supreme Court staff complained a year ago, while the new jail was being built, that operations are outgrowing available office space.

Lewis County's former jail, vacated in 1990 following construction of a 42-cell jail, is now used for office space.

"We had no other space available for county offices," County Manager David H. Pendergast said. "It was an extensive renovation to take the cells out and convert the building to office space. It was only renovated on the first floor. The second floor of the building still contains jail cells."

Mr. Pendergast said Lewis County opted to renovate the former jail for office space because constructing a new building to house county staff was too expensive.

"Our goal is to eventually have all of the offices in county buildings. The Board of Elections office is in Lowville, but not in a county building, for example," he said. "When and if the county gets to the point where they'll build another building, we'll look at what we need the old jail property for. Selling it has been discussed."

Jefferson County in the early 1990s sold its former jail, at North Massey and Coffeen streets, to Brett O. Sizeland, who turned it into an antiques shop. Then-Administrator James W. Wright said at the time that selling it was the only practical option, versus the county taking on the cost of renovating or demolishing it.

St. Lawrence County has set aside $55,000 for its study into potential jail uses.

Mr. Cunningham said selling the building might be a possibility, "but it has never been a top option because it's right next to the county complex."

An additional $75,000 was set aside in this year's budget for an office space needs study.

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