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Suffolk report: Converting nursing home to jail would cost $146M

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

Suffolk public works officials say it would cost $146 million to remake the former John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility into jail space, $30 million more than it would take to build the second phase of a new jail in Yaphank.

County lawmakers sought a review to determine if it would be less expensive to convert the nursing home into jail space after the first phase of construction opened last year at a cost of $185 million. At the time, County Executive Steve Bellone lambasted the new jail as a "Taj Mahal" and "terrible news for taxpayers."

Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said the study shows it is "not economically viable to do anything but sell this building." Meyers said that even closed, the former nursing home costs $1 million a year to maintain and keeps potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars off the tax rolls.

Meyers said a buyer, whom he would not identify, has been selected by the county under a request for proposals also approved by the legislature. But the county is still negotiating a contract. Several county sources say there were two offers, but only one company made a bid, for $11.5 million -- an amount some lawmakers say is too low.

Legislative minority leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) questioned the validity of the report, calling it "self-fulfilling prophecy to bolster the administration's farcical attempt to sell."

Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said he has "had doubts" about Foley's use as a jail. He said the county should focus more on alternatives to jailing nonviolent offenders and drug addicts, which would better protect the public and cut long-term costs.

The public works study said it would cost $18 million to convert Foley into a drug and alcohol treatment center. But DeMarco said the study of a rehab facility was only "cursory."

"There seems to be a lack of will . . . to truly delve into the feasibility," DeMarco said.

Turning the 180,000-square-foot former nursing home into a jail would cost $811 per square foot and would require "extensive modifications of most major building systems" to meet the security needs and heavier use as a correctional facility, the public works report said.

The study said turning Foley into a jail would require construction of a separate infirmary, visiting area, recreation areas, a control room, library and chapel. Those facilities already exist in phase one of the jail and are sized to handle all 723 prisoners from both phases.

The report also said "there is no feasible way to connect" the phase one jail and Foley by tunnel or above-ground corridor without substantial construction and operating costs and the increased movement of inmates.

By contrast, public works officials said conversion to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center would cost about $100 a square foot and be a "relatively minor" undertaking, requiring only cosmetics like paint and carpeting, security upgrades and securing pharmacy facilities.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said Foley should not be sold because there a numerous unmet needs for health services such as drug treatment, dialysis and special pediatric services.

"There are still populations in Suffolk County that need the care which is not now available here," she said. "Parents should not have to go to Westchester or out of state."

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