Ground Broken for New Northumberland County Prison

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SUNBURY -- It's been more than 11 months since a fire destroyed the Northumberland County Prison and on Friday, ground was broken on a new facility.

The new prison means an increase in taxes for the people of Northumberland County but commissioners say there will be a big savings in the long run.

The old building is almost 150 years old and it's still standing, but Northumberland County officials say it is not fit to house prisoners after that fire in January.

The new prison is being built less than one mile away and will cost around $35 million.

With bright gold shovels in hand, officials and guests broke ground in Sunbury at the site of the new Northumberland County Prison.

The groundbreaking comes about 11 months after fire destroyed the former prison on North Second Street in the city.

The new prison is being built at the former Celotex site on Susquehanna Avenue, less than one mile away.

County commissioner Vinny Clausi says the land was tested for contaminants by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and came back clean. Clausi says the new prison will cost around $35 million.

"We didn't want to build the prison. We didn't want to spend that kind of money. But it burned down, what are we going to do? We've got to build a prison," Commissioner Clausi said.

Preliminary work on the prison has started already, but Clausi says the project will officially start next March.

Clausi says building the new prison as soon as possible is necessary because Northumberland County is paying over $500,000 a month to house prisoners at other jails.   Clausi says residents will pay an extra $45 a year in taxes to pay for the new prison.

"That's nothing, $45 a year," said Clausi. "But they're going to save millions in the long run, millions of dollars."

"I don't think that's too bad, really, because in the long run, we'll probably save some money," said Paul Troup of Lower Augusta Township.

Noticeably absent from the groundbreaking ceremony was Republican Commissioner Rick Shoch.

"I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to be there, knowing that it sends a message to the public that we're all 100 percent on board," said Commissioner Shoch.

Incoming Commissioner Kym Best -- a Democrat -- was at the ceremony.  She says the new board of commissioners discussed putting a hold on the construction, but she is now in favor of moving forward with the new prison.

Some people in Northumberland County have high hopes for the new prison.

"I knew someone who worked there. She lost her job and everything. It can help bring jobs to the area, too, which is good. I think it's good that they're rebuilding it," said Tiffany Dreibelbis of Herndon.

Commissioners say they hope to have the new prison built by the spring of 2017. As for the old building, no decision has been made on its future.

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