Stanislaus County looks to sell Honor Farm property

08/10/2014 8:39 PM

08/10/2014 9:47 PM

Stanislaus County essentially has a “for sale” sign on the former Honor Farm near Grayson.

For those interested, the package includes former housing units for lawbreakers, an administrative office, a dining hall, shop buildings, modular structures, a water storage tank and a wastewater treatment facility.

The minimum sale price for the 22-acre site next to Laird Park is $723,000. That won’t cover the county’s obligation to demolish unsafe structures and clean up the wastewater ponds. An engineering firm estimated the work will cost $823,000.

The Board of Supervisors recently declared it would sell the property on West Grayson Road, 7 miles southwest of Modesto. Purchase offers will be accepted at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 27 in the Chief Executive Office at Tenth Street Place in downtown Modesto. Bidders could participate in an oral auction an hour later.

Officials said individuals from the private sector and a nonprofit group have inquired about the former minimum-security detention facility, though it’s not easy to imagine how a new owner would use it.

“We will see,” said Patty Hill Thomas, county chief operating officer. “It’s a whole new arena for us. We hope we will be successful.”

The Honor Farm was originally built in 1950 near the San Joaquin River to provide work programs for inmates. Over time, expansions gave the center more than 20 permanent and temporary buildings, boosting the capacity to 350 prisoners.

In the past decade, the inmate population dwindled with the poor condition of buildings, staffing cuts and the need for increased security for those in custody. Two barracks with 172 beds were destroyed by fire in June 2010, dealing a death blow to the Honor Farm.

The county used the insurance settlement to build 192 replacement beds at the Public Safety Center on Hackett Road in west Ceres. The Sheriff’s Department opened the unit last year and vacated the lockup on Grayson Road.

The county’s minimum price is based on an appraisal by Giomi Inc., which compared recent sales of agricultural parcels to set market value at $30,000 per acre, plus $75,000 for the improvements that will remain, a report said.

The county needs to demolish a dilapidated barracks for safety reasons and haul away tons of sludge that accumulated for years in the wastewater ponds. An auto-painting facility also needs to be removed.

There are examples of prisons being converted for government offices, galleries, retail shops or civic facilities. In New York, the state has been trying to sell former incarceration facilities that were closed because of lower crime rates and lighter sentences for nonviolent criminals. In February, an agency called Empire State Development announced that a television and music video production company would purchase the former Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island for studios.

The Honor Farm’s remote location could limit the prospects, however.

Supervisor Dick Monteith said an agricultural operation is a possible re-use. “I hope there are some people who have a specific reason for using it,” he said. “It is costing us money to maintain it. It is a good time to put it out for bids, and let’s find out.”

Hill Thomas said any purchase agreement would transfer the Honor Farm property “as is” to the buyer after the demolition and cleanup is completed. The county hopes to finish the work and close escrow by next spring.

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