October 3, 2008
women's prison moves, what's next?
With the prospect of the State Prison for Women moving out of Goffstown further down the road, thoughts turn to how to use the facility and land in the future.
While it’s not definite, the state’s Department of Corrections has announced they are seeking $37 million from the state to construct a new combination prison and transitional housing facility for women.
Jeffrey Lyons, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the current building on Mast Road in Goffstown is not adequate for future needs, being over capacity right now.
Lyons said it was “probable” the prison would be relocated to another site outside of Goffstown. The state leases the current site from Hillsborough County for $100,000 each year.
Hillsborough County Administrator Greg Wenger said the state’s Executive Council and the county are in the second year of a five-year lease, adding the state has not notified the county of any plans to relocate.
No plans to move the prison out of its current site can go forward until that happens, Wenger said.
The state has just requested the $37 million this summer, and it could take years, or even decades, to secure the funding, find a new site and map out the building plans.
“This could take five, 10, 15, even 20 years,” Wenger said. Prior to 1989, when the state began leasing the prison, the facility functioned as a Hillsborough County prison.
The county also owns several parcels of land surrounding the prison site, including the land on which the Hillsborough Nursing Home currently sits, the Henry Bridge area going toward Manchester and the community garden, according to vice chairman of the Goffstown Board of Selectmen Scott Gross.
The board has not spoken about the possibility of the prison vacating its Mast Road home, but they have been exploring the possibility of getting some of that county-owned land back under the town’s control.
“I think that the county owns a lot of land, and we are attempting to have discussions with the county about space. I think there is certainly an opportunity, not only for Hillsborough County, but for Goffstown to use some of those lands for the collective use of the citizens,” Gross said.
Gross added the board plans to meet with county officials in November to talk about getting some of that land, not necessarily the prison site, back in Goffstown. “What we want to center that (meeting) around is the land the county would potentially lease, sell or donate to Goffstown,” he said.
The prison site is zoned as an agricultural district, but Gross said it would not be difficult to change the use if needed or desired down the road. Municipalities, he said, are exempt from adhering strictly to zoning regulations. For the most part, he said, the town could use it for any use it wanted if it owned the land.
Years ago, Gross added, before the state began leasing the prison from the county, kindergarten was considered for the building. “It would be sufficient for a lot of other purposes,” said Gross of the building and site. “It also happens to be a very prime spot for economic development.”
Selectman John Caprio agreed with Gross, but added the fact that Hillsborough County is making money off the prison site through the state’s lease could complicate things in terms of getting the land for Goffstown.
“They would want to have some arrangement that would equate to that revenue stream,” Caprio pointed out. “Nonetheless, I think the bottom line is that it does present some opportunities.” The town is always looking to increase its commercial property base, one option for the land down the road.
“People have always said ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have that county land converted over to community so we could have some tax benefit from it?’” Caprio said, adding it would be a long and difficult process that may prove to be worth it for the town, should they acquire the land.
The town is also short on recreational lands, Caprio said. A warrant article to purchase a piece of property for the purpose of building some ball fields and other recreational activity areas was turned down at the March vote, Caprio said.
The board has also created a subcommittee devoted to exploring the possibility of building a new fire station, Caprio said, adding the area would also be ideal for municipal purposes.
The prison has not affected property values at all, according to Goffstown’s assessor Scott Bartlett, because it’s tax exempt, being county-owned.
“By law, all county property is exempt from taxation,” he said. That fact is something that may put many of the prison’s neighbors at ease, in addition to the added security in the area should the prison move out of Goffstown.
Nancy Jackson of Emerald Circle, which is located behind the prison on the other side of the Piscataquog River, said she’d want to know whether the absence of the prison would affect her taxes.
However, she said, she’d be glad to see the prison relocated. Jackson moved to her Emerald Circle home in the early 1990s, she said, and now lives there with her husband and her granddaughter’s family, which includes three great-grandchildren.
Jackson bought the house at a pretty low price because it was a repossession, and she was aware of the nearby prison, she said.
“When we first moved here back in the early ’90s, there was an escapee who put her clothes under a rock nearby,” said Jackson. The escapee had made it across the Piscataquog and went through some woods to Emerald Circle.
After that incident, Jackson said, she had the home outfitted with security shutters. However, the possibility of an escape has always made her uneasy.
Pauline Boisvert, who also lives on Emerald Circle, said she got a good deal on her home because it was close to the prison. She added the prison contributes to the economy around Goffstown by providing jobs. “A lot of people would lose jobs,” Boisvert said. “Besides that, the prison doesn’t bother me.”
Marcia Smith lives on Henry Bridge Road, directly down the street from the prison, and has lived there for about 10 years. “It doesn’t really matter to me where it is,” Smith said. “When you stop to think about it, it does give you pause. If you need more room, that’s too bad. That means there’s that many more people not obeying the laws.”