Schuylkill Transportation Authority has paid more than $700,000 for property along Route 61 in Saint Clair to build a new STS depot facility there and turn the current STS hub into a pre-release prison.
County deed records show Schuylkill County Transportation Authority purchased 6 pieces of property at Route 61 and Wade Road earlier this month. Most of the property purchased was former the Quirin Foundry, which has been closed for several years.
New STS Facility Planned for Former Quirin Foundry Along Route 61
Records show the biggest parcel among the 6 is a 16.6 acre plot situated along the highway. The Transportation Authority paid $584,500 for this property, previously owned by Leed Foundry Inc.
There are 4 other parcels located adjacent to or inside this larger plot also included in the Transportation’s land grab. The Schuylkill County Parcel Viewer shows each of these properties selling for the exact same amount, $115,500. A sixth property, owned by Reading Anthracite, was sold to the Transportation Authority for $1.
If each property really did sell individually for the prices listed, that would put the total price tag on just the land acquisition at $1,046,501. However, before this transaction was announced to the local daily paper, The Canary learned the cost for the sale would be around $700,000, which is exactly the sum of $584,500 and $115,500.
The Plan for the Foundry Property
So, why is Schuylkill County Transportation Authority paying nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for a broken down foundry in Saint Clair?
The plan is to move the current STS operations center in the Saint Clair Industrial Park to a new facility planned for the former foundry property. This feels a little bit like a buried lede here, but the cost of this proposed facility is a bit mind-boggling.
In the local daily’s report on the deal, Schuylkill County Administrator Gary Bender is quoted saying, “It’s a $30 million investment in the county. That’s a good thing.”
That’s certainly his opinion but hard to prove as fact.
The Canary hears the project could cost anywhere between $30-50 million when all is said and done there. One of the main features of the new depot will be a compressed natural gas filling station for natural gas-powered buses in the fleet.
But you read that right … a $30-50 million bus depot for a fleet of buses that get used less and less each year.
“A good thing,” as it’s been called?
Since 2014, according to a recent performance review, STS failed to maintain a 3% annual ridership increase. STS even said there are “limited opportunities to sustainably grow ridership in Schuylkill County.”
The Plan for the Pre-Release Center
The other part of the plan is just as baffling as the first. As much as Schuylkill County probably doesn’t need a so-called “state-of-the-art” bus and van depot costing in the tens of millions of dollars, the second part has us really scratching our head.
Rather than maybe putting the soon-to-be former STS depot in the Saint Clair Industrial Park on the open market, the County has plans for it, too.
County officials believe they can solve the overcrowding problem that’s plagued the Schuylkill lock-up for decades by turning the current STS depot into a “pre-release center”. These facilities are generally for non-violent offenders transitioning out of prison. Inmates at pre-release centers are often in a work-release program through a prison.
They can sugarcoat the name of this facility all they want, but it’s still a prison. And the plan is to plop this prison right in the middle of one of the busiest business areas in the greater Pottsville area, the Saint Clair Industrial Park.
In addition to the businesses in the industrial park, there are more businesses and homes nearby on the Port Carbon-Saint Clair Highway in East Norwegian Township. It’s hard to imagine this is a good idea for anyone nearby.
We’ll be keeping an eye on these developments in the near future.