October 18, 2021

Jail roof replacement to begin next week

Cortland Standard file photo

A man enters the Cortland County Jail in this May 2016 file photo.

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms hopes he’ll receive a state report today detailing repairs needed to reoopen the jail that was closed due to flooding.

“They (the state Commission of Corrections) actually keep putting the date off,” Helms told county legislators Wednesday at a joint meeting of the county’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Meeting set

What: Joint Cortland County Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and Buildings and Ground Committee meeting
When: 8:30 a.m. Feb. 20
Where: Cortland County Legislature Committee Room, third floor of the County Office Building.

What started Jan. 24 as a leak in the jail’s roof quickly turned into an emergency. By 8 a.m., 2 to 3 inches covered the floor of a dormitory facility that can house 30 inmates. Water continued to leak in other places.

Sixty inmates were evacuated to other counties’ jails. Cortland County is paying about $90 a day, per inmate, to keep them elsewhere — around $5,500 a day total, a number that will likely increase as a seasonal cycle sees arrests pick up.

What’s next

Helms told legislators the Commission of Corrections last told him a report would be issued today. “So I’m hoping that maybe after Thursday I’ll have this from the state,” he said. He doesn’t know yet what the report will say, but once he has it the document would be made public.

The county needs the state OK before anything can be done, Helms said. “I’m kind of at their whim,” he said. “When they get it to me, they get it to me.”

However, the county is moving as fast as it can, Helms said. The roofing repairs are tentatively scheduled to begin Monday. “To rip that roof off and start putting a new one on,” he said.

A contractor was also brought in Wednesday to examine the wood floors — the floor in the dormitory area buckled and may need to be replaced.

“It’s felt we need to change the floor in there, so they are going to rip it up and redo that,” he said. That would would begin Monday, too.

“We’re trying to get to the minuscule stuff,” Helms said. “The stuff that we know we’ve got to do, we’re trying to get on it now so when we get the other list hopefully it’ll be a few other things.”

Work has been contracted through Pike Co. of Rochester.

The only things delaying the roof repairs would be weather, Helms already received approval from the state to begin roof and floor repairs. “Depending on how the weather cooperates this could be a fairly quick thing,” Helms said. “It could be as quick as a couple of weeks.”

Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland), vice chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, said Legislature Chairman Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville), while acting as administrator under emergency powers, has already contracted with Pike Co. to replace the roof. “So the entire roof is coming off and being replaced,” Harbin said.

The cost for the roof and floor projects is to not exceed $700,000.

Legislator Kelly Preston (R-Homer) asked Helms about steps to prevent mold and mildew.

“We had had engineers come in and look the jail over,” Helms said, including experts from SMRT, a Latham-based architect firm. “We did have Pike come in with SMRT … they didn’t seem to have any concerns over mold.”

For now, the roof still leaks, Helms said. “They shoveled the snow all off but it’s still leaking,” he added. “If it rains it’s going to leak some more.”

Awaiting studies

The county is still awaiting results of studies by Vera Institute of Justice — which is seeking ways to reduce the jail crowding — and CRS Inc. — which is conducting bed needs assessments, said Legislator Michael Barylski (D-Cortlandville), chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

“They understand … what has happened here that there is a sense of urgency,” Barylski said. “We have every expectation that they are going to work diligently to fulfill the remainder of our contract and give us the information we need to get to the next step.”

No deadline to file the studies has been set. “They were hoping by the end of March, but that’s not a hard date,” Barylski said about the Vera study.

Eric Mulvihill, clerk of the Legislature, said Whitney has reached out to Rod Miller, president of CRS Inc., to expedite research.

Legislators need the reports before they can choose options for the jail.

Replace or renovate

Harbin said when people think about the jail they need to think about different parts — infrastructure, employees and providing services.

“We have to think of it in three parts and how are we best addressing all three parts together as a system,” he said. “It’s really just throwing it out there just to say, do we go back to the way it was that Wednesday before we had the failure in the roof or do we go forward from here?”

Many of the legislators agreed the space-needs studies are necessary.

“I think what we really need to talk about is, in that bond — whether its renovate, remodel or expand — what do we need?” said Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland).

Once the county has a number, it can work on different plans for Vera to begin adapting, Helms said.

Helms also said adding on to the new jail won’t work.

“I can tell you that add anything on to that one right there, anybody who sits in this room and thinks that can be done is wrong,” he said. “So that means knock it down, start over, do whatever but you’re not going to take that one and make anything.”