Prison facilities won't be built on former boys school site in Paso Robles

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comJanuary 22, 2013 

El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility

Plans have officially been scrapped to turn the shuttered El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility in northeastern Paso Robles into a trio of prison projects, state officials confirmed Tuesday.

Instead, by this time next year, the land could be for sale — and San Luis Obispo County officials may want to be first in line.

The state declared the property and existing buildings at 4545 Airport Road as surplus on Dec. 19, but buyers may have to wait until as late as 2014 for the state Legislature to actually put the land up for sale, said spokesman Bill Sessa of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The sale price won’t be disclosed until that time, he added.

Meanwhile, San Luis Obispo County 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham is looking into the property. About 25 county, regional and state representatives took a tour of the site about a month ago, he said.

“I got to thinking, there are so many uses for this property. Maybe we should get a shot at it,” he said.

One idea is to buy pieces with Monterey and Kings counties and turn the secured area into a regional 200-bed overflow county jail. Mecham said he recently spoke to officials in those counties and they’re interested.

“It has a maintenance shop, classroom facilities and a lockdown area that pretty much mirrors our County Jail,” he said.

That idea would help alleviate overcrowding from Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan, under which state prisoners anticipating release are sent to county jails.

Mecham also hopes to use the site’s two gymnasiums and expansive sports fields for local youth.

“Maybe we could use a portion of this for community needs,” he said. “So the next step we took was to pull more people together to look into it.”

Paso Robles City Councilman Fred Strong had similar ideas last year when the state’s prison’s plans were in limbo.

Mecham plans to propose as soon as April that his fellow supervisors to draft a letter of interest for the property.

“I don’t know if it would be financially feasible,” Mecham said. “It’s awfully preliminary at this point, but basically it’s 160 acres sitting there going to no use.”

Aside from a few state workers maintaining the site, the buildings have sat empty since closing in June 2008.

The longtime plan was to reconfigure the property to phase in about 1,500 state inmates into three prison projects as soon as 2011. Part of it was a re-entry facility concept that would provide special programs to ease inmates’ release into society. That initially drew criticism from locals.

But the project was ultimately approved by local agencies wooed by the promise of priority aid for county jail expansions. Today, those funding priorities aren’t void, but may fall under new terms, Sessa said. He was unsure of the specifics, he said.

The state now wants to build re-entry facilities inside existing prisons instead of in communities, Sessa said.

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