By Mary Drier & Bill Petzold
CARO — Although there was a lot of talk and ideas pitched during Monday’s tour of the recently closed Tuscola Residential Re-Entry Facility outside of Caro, there was no definitive solution of another use … yet.
Tuscola County Commissioner Craig Kirkpatrick coordinated the tour that drew about 20 people including Senator Mike Green (R – Mayville) and Rep. Terry Brown (D – Pigeon).
A few years ago Tuscola County Commissioners were successful in working with the state to develop the former Camp Tuscola prison to be used as a Residential Re-Entry Facility.
See FACILITY A10
Hopes are to be able to partner with the state again to find another use for the facility, or for the state to allow its release for private use.
“The idea was to get together as many people from different backgrounds as we could and brainstorm on other uses for the site,” said Kirkpatrick. “If we can get some enthusiasm… can get some focus, who knows what might come out of it. That’s what I’m hoping for.
“The goal was to bring in the minds that have dealt with it before and the minds that are involved in all sorts of different activities in the county to come up with some possibilities, and then explore them from there. I’ve heard a lot of enthusiasm. That’s the first step.”
Some of the suggested uses were a nursing facility, a campground, banquet hall, opening the facility’s gym for use, and a rehabilitation facility for veterans.
County Commissioner Christine Trisch, who manages of Heritage Hill, suggested using the facility as a retirement home.
“All you have to do is tear out that middle wall (in each of the former cells) that’s drywall and put one senior citizen in each room. Take out one door and leave one,” explained Tuscola County Economic Development Corporation Director Steve Erickson about Trisch’s idea.
“Do some remodeling, fresh paint job, new carpet. It’s very economical, because of the way the place is heated (with wood).”
Another suggested use was to handle the overflow from the Tuscola County Jail. Overcrowding has been an issue for more than a decade. Last year the county spent about $150,000 housing inmates in other county jails because there wasn’t enough room for them.
While turning a former prison and re-entry center into a jail facility sounds logical, there are a lot of issues that need to be considered.
“I don’t think it would be suitable for our needs,” said Tuscola County Sheriff Lee Teschendorf. “It was built as a minimum security prison with 160 beds. Not many of our inmates are just minimum security.”
According to Teschendorf, state prisons are built using different standards than what is required for a jail. Some prisons are minimum security, super maximum security and ranges in between those levels.
As a minimum security prison, the re-entry center’s cell walls and some windows don’t meet jail security standards, nor do the showers and some of the sizes of the cells. So a lot of changes and upgrades would have to be made.
“I don’t think it would be feasible to do all that,” said Teschendorf.
One of the issues Kirkpatrick had with the facility was maintenance because one the center’s furnaces had gone out.
“I think that the state needs to monitor the heating system so that we don’t have the same tragedy happen here that happened in the adjoining facility, which was a freeze up and a water down and a huge amount of expense for asbestos abatement,” he said. “We need to have this facility monitored or we risk losing it.”
Overall Kirkpatrick said he felt the tour went well .
“If the community has any ideas, don’t be reluctant to provide them to the county controller’s office or myself,” he said.
The telephone number for the controller’s office is (989) 672-3700 and Kirkpatrick’s is (989) 551-3285.
“I’m ready to work with anybody that finds a project. I feel pretty comfortable with the right project that the state would be open to making a deal,” said Green. “No guarantees, but I feel like the atmosphere we have down there now is they don’t want empty buildings sitting around. But they’re not just going to give it away, and the county’s not just going to take it with nothing to do with it.”
The Tuscola Residential Reentry complex had 160 parolees and employed 34 people when it closed.
The reentry center opened in November 2006 in the former Camp Tuscola, which was a 260-bed minimum security prison that opened in May 1985. As part of state’s previous cutbacks, the annex part of the prison camp closed in Sept. 2003, and then the main camp closed June 1, 2005.
The prison complex consists of two refurbished buildings that were part of the Caro Regional Center and were built in 1914 to house epilepsy and mentally impaired patients, but were closed in the 1970s.
Mary Drier and Bill Petzold are staff writers for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at email@example.com, and he can be reached at Petzold@tcadvertiser.com.