Luzerne County’s old juvenile detention center: demolish or sell?

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | May 9th, 2016 9:50 pm

County recently paid $11K for demolition plan

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Luzerne County officials planned to demolish the old juvenile detention center off River Street but are holding off because a prospective buyer has surfaced. County officials planned to demolish the old juvenile detention center off River Street but are holding off because a prospective buyer has surfaced.

Plans to demolish Luzerne County’s old juvenile detention center in Wilkes-Barre are on hold because a prospective buyer has surfaced, said acting county Manager C. David Pedri.

Pedri said the interested party recently contacted him and is conducting due diligence, including research into a subdivision that would be required to separate the detention center property from the adjoining county prison parcel on Water Street.

The three-story detention center sits atop a hill and is accessible from a driveway off North River Street.

Pedri declined to identify the party, saying the interest is preliminary and may not result in a purchase offer.

Offers to buy county-owned real estate must be publicly presented to the county council for approval, Pedri said.

A purchase would generate revenue for the county and free up capital funding that had been earmarked for demolition, Pedri said.

“It would be better for the county,” he said.

The county’s capital plan earmarked $160,000 for demolition of the detention center and a small county-owned garage on Tannery Street.

The center has been empty since 2002, when former county judge Michael Conahan said it was not fit for habitation and stopped sending youths there. The building had passed state inspection, but Conahan returned the center ‘s license to the state, forcing its closure and leading to the county’s use of a private detention center that played a role in corruption charges against Conahan and others.

Built in 1937 as a women’s prison, the center is solid and not leaking but needs a new furnace and other repairs, officials have said. Its choppy layout and shortage of parking makes it unsuitable for county reuse, officials have concluded.

The county recently paid New York-based Hunt Engineers, Architects & Land Surveyors, PC, $11,462 to complete environmental testing and a demolition plan and specifications, said county engineer Larry Plesh.

Hunt determined asbestos in the structure is airborne because material was disturbed when thieves tore our copper piping, Plesh said.

As a result, asbestos remediation required before demolition could cost as much as $100,000, which means additional capital funding may be needed for demolition, Plesh said. The administration will present an update on the demolition plans to the council if the prospective buyer backs out, he said.

County officials had attempted to deter thieves and vandals by blocking off the access road.

During a tour of the structure last fall, county Councilman Rick Williams, an architect, concluded the building is too far gone to reuse at a reasonable cost. Williams had suggested the county hold onto the parcel for its prime location and explore removing the top of the hill to make a larger pad for a county building or park many years from now if finances allow.

Prison officials had discussed converting the center into a prison for female inmates, but that would cost an estimated $6 million.

Plesh said the cleared site may be suitable for a county equipment storage building.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.