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Suffolk OKs bill to study using Foley building for jail space

A March 27, 2013 photo of the John

A March 27, 2013 photo of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility which, according to Suffolk public works officials, would need $146-million to be remade into jail space. Credit: James Carbone

The Suffolk Legislature Thursday night unanimously approved a bill to study the feasibility of using the former John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility as jail space.

The measure, sponsored by Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), would direct public works to study within 120 days the potential conversion of the five-story structure in Yaphank into space that could either reduce or eliminate the need to spend another $100 million on a second phase of jail construction ordered by the state.

"Why should we use a credit card to spend millions more if we can save the money? It just makes sense," said Browning, referring to $185 million already spent on the first phase for 340 prisoners that opened in May.

The action came at a shortened legislative meeting that was delayed until late afternoon, a day after Presiding Officer William Lindsay died. At the outset, officials played a video tribute to Lindsay. Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the entire body was suffering from "profound and consuming grief" over his passing, noting there's "not a person equal to Bill's integrity and character."

Browning got her proposal out of committee for a vote last week after agreeing to make changes that also would permit the county to continue with plans to seek proposals to sell or lease the five-story former nursing home. Browning's original legislation would have temporarily halted the process to pursue a sale or lease until the study was done.

The bill comes as officials for the state correction commission are expected to visit the building Sept. 18-19 to give the county their assessment of the chances of using the building. Tom Vaughan, an aide to County Executive Steve Bellone, said the administration now backs the study proposal. Earlier, the administration raised concerns the state would consider retrofitting to be cost inefficient and worried it could jeopardize the state's waivers allowing the county to hold 371 prisoners over capacity.

Lawmakers also approved an emergency resolution authorizing a $4.9 million bond borrowing for five years to pay Fashion Institute of Technology for the county's share of tuition for local students seeking bachelor's and graduate degrees. The school sued the county after an appellate division ruling that reversed a lower court decision, which found that counties did not have to pay for local students attending FIT beyond two years.

Another emergency resolution won approval. It provides $325,000 to pay for the removal of asbestos in the graffiti-ridden Bavarian Inn, a long-shuttered restaurant on the edge of Lake Ronkonkoma.

The legislature also voted to authorize the $4.4 million purchase of the 44-acre Little Portion Friary, a forested area under development pressure at the edge of Mount Sinai Harbor. Brookhaven Town will share 25 percent, or $1.1 million, of the cost of purchase from the Society of St. Francis.

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