Closing military bases on the federal level and consolidating hospitals in New York state have proven so politically difficult that special commissions had to be created to do it. But governments shouldn’t have to resort to such cumbersome measures when institutions need to be closed for policy and financial reasons, as the Cuomo administration has decided O.D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna and Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton should.
Of the two, the closing of Heck is less controversial. The site, which once housed hundreds of patients and had thousands of staff, has been in a state of limbo for years, not fully open but not quite closed. The population is down to 50 and the workforce down to 300-plus. And, like other state-operated institutions for those with developmental disabilities, it has been the subject of federal lawsuits by the families of former patients, including one involving the death of a child that was settled for $5 million in 2011.
In addition, the site, 43 acres at Balltown and Consaul roads, adjacent to Mohawk Commons, is prime real estate. According to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, developers have expressed interest in it in recent years. A walkable, mixed-use development that includes offices, housing, recreation and green space, that puts the property back on the tax rolls, should be the goal of county and town economic development officials, and encouraged by the state.
The Cuomo administation says this closure, which will take place in 2015, will be done without layoffs, that workers will be offered jobs elsewhere in the system. It says the same about Mt. McGregor, which is slated for closure next year.
There’s likely to be more opposition to that move from the prison guards union and local representatives. But it’s hard to justify the large expense of keeping underused prisons open when, thanks to changes in state drug policy, the number of inmates has been steadily declining.