TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County legislators approved $74,000 in funding to study the conditions and program needs of the Tompkins County Public Safety Building.

Legislators recently voted against moving forward with a proposal to co-locate the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Ithaca Police Department. Now that that’s off the table, the county is pivoting to a more detailed study of what options they have because the current Public Safety Building — which houses the jail and sheriff’s office — needs major upgrades.

The new study will expand on preliminary work done by LaBella Associates in 2018. Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino said the study will assess the current conditions of the Public Safety Building at 779 Warren Rd., to understand what type of investment the county would have to make if it wanted to make substantial improvements.

“We’re taking a more comprehensive approach in analyzing the public safety facility needs and (a) conditions and program needs assessment should be the first step in understanding what the needs are, then we can use that to compare and look at other alternatives,” Molino said.

The Public Safety Building was constructed in 1986 and has not had any major renovations since. As such, it has facility issues consistent with an old building, Capt. Ray Bunce, corrections division supervisor, said. He also said they are operating a jail with an outdated design. The Tompkins County Jail has a “linear design,” with cell blocks with intermittent supervision. Bunce said a more modern design would have direct supervision, which would be better for programs and allow for more space.

“It needs either substantial improvements or there needs to be an alternative to the building if we’re not going to put substantial improvements into it,” Molino said. “The facility needs work.”

The new study, which will be conducted by LaBella Associates, will examine four areas. Per the resolution, LaBella Associates will:

  • “Evaluate architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, life safety and security and control systems.
  • Investigate opportunities for Carbon Mitigation Feasibility.
  • Provide an assessment of the Public Safety Building’s below-grade sanitary sewer piping.
  • Review and/or identify a variety of suspect regulated building materials.”

The Tompkins County Jail and criminal justice system has been the source of a few studies in recent years, including the study by the Center for Governmental Research released in 2017. The CGR study examined alternatives to incarceration and other criminal justice programs, policies and practices to see how they would impact the projected jail population. At the time, the jail was overcapacity and regularly boarding out inmates.

The study found, based on population projections, that there was no need to build a new jail or expand the current one. However, the report did recommend expanding medical, treatment and other services — something community members heavily called for during the study period — and moving the sheriff’s administrative offices and road patrol out of the public safety building and using the extra space for expanded services.

That study seems accurate so far in its prediction that the jail population will decrease. Bunce said the highest population in July was 65 inmates, and that includes some inmates that were board-ins.

The county may expand the scope of the study to look at alternative locations for a public safety building or locations for constructing a new one. One location discussed for possibly housing the road patrol and civil division was 767 Warren Rd., which is nearby and adjacent to the airport.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.