Penobscot County again is trying to figure out what it can do with a 119-year-old Hammond Street building that it bought four years ago and where it has twice proposed housing county jail inmates.
Rather than house inmates at the Bangor property that once housed the local YMCA, county commissioners now want to know if any parts of the old building can be salvaged and used as office space. That would allow the county to move some employee offices from the chronically overcrowded Penobscot County Jail building just down Hammond Street, freeing up space.
Before the county can do anything with the building at 127 Hammond St., however, it has to pay thousands of dollars to clean up the site.
County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to pay a local contractor between $4,000 and $5,000 to clean up trash and cut down trees and bushes around the building’s parking lot.
The county also will have the parcel surveyed to determine exactly where the property lines so it can erect new fencing. The existing fencing is down in several sections.
County employees in May did an initial cleanup around the parking lot, but people have been camping in an adjacent wooded area that the county does not own, County Administrator Erika Honey said.
The trash has returned since that initial cleanup. Much of the property was littered with debris on Wednesday morning.
“We hope that by cutting down the trees there will be less hiding spots and more visibility,” Honey said.
The contractor also will remove trees growing by the front entrance and around the flagpole, and maintain the property.
Due to concerns about vandalism and employee safety, the county moved emergency management equipment it usually kept in the parking lot to the nearby parking lot behind the Penobscot County Jail. Equipment belonging to the sheriff’s office also was relocated, and county employees have been told not to park in the YMCA lot for safety reasons, Honey said.
In addition to cleaning up the parking lot, county commissioners are preparing to have the building evaluated to determine what, if any, sections can be remodeled and used as office space for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and jail staff. On Tuesday, commissioners accepted two bids from Bangor firms to evaluate the building, but did not award a contract. One bid is for $38,000 and the other is for $39,500.
If some employees could be moved to the former Y building, some sections of the chronically overcrowded jail building just down Hammond Street could be refitted and used as cells, Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci of Bangor said.
Several years ago, the county paid for a feasibility study that determined it would cost more to remodel the former Y to be used as a jail than it would cost to build a new one.
Early last year, county commissioners endorsed a proposal to demolish the former Y and build an eight-story, 250-bed jail in its place at a cost of between $65 million and $70 million.
That plan, however, met resounding criticism from Bangor city councilors, nearby residents and at least one member of the advisory board that twice recommended a new facility as the best solution to the aging and overcrowded jail.
Last August, Baldacci, who had supported construction of a new jail, said he had changed his mind and supported expanding or remodeling the existing facility.
The facility study of the former Y allows commissioners to consider how to move forward with that idea.
“We need to know what can be salvaged in that building so we can make a decision about what to do.”
In the meantime, the jail is spending about $75,000 to reconfigure space to use it more efficiently.
Penobscot County bought the former YMCA, first constructed in 1902 and added to over the years, for $825,000 in 2017, after plans to turn it into a denturist school in 2013 fell through. The county bought it with an eye toward renovating it to house female inmates and intake, but that proved to be too expensive because of the building code requirements for jails.
Commissioners first offered to buy the 51,000-square-foot building in 2011 after the YMCA and the YWCA, located on Second Street, merged but were outbid by Lovley Development Inc. of Newport. The asking price at the time was $725,000. Greg Lovely sold the building two years later to William Buxton, one of the founders of New England Denture Center. Buxton died in 2016. The following year the county bought the building from his estate.
County commissioners have struggled since then to determine the best use for the building.
The late Thomas J. Davis Jr. of Kenduskeag, who served as a county commissioner from 1984 until his death in August 2018, often opined that the only good use for the former Y was to tear it down and turn the property into a parking lot that county employees could use during the day and downtown visitors could use in the evenings.