HOLLIDAYSBURG - Signs designating the "old" part of the Blair County Prison along Mulberry Street in Holllidaysburg as the site of the new Central Booking Facility have been erected - an indication that the opening date for the center is near.
"It is definitely going to be soon," said Warden Michael T. Johnston. He added that the installation of nearly $50,000 worth of equipment, which began last week, should be completed this week.
Johnston said prison employees assigned to Central Booking must be trained to use the new equipment.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
New signs identify the Central Booking Facility at Blair County Prison.
He said employees of the center will come from the present staff, and new officers will be hired to replace them.
Capt. Barrie R. Wyland has been named the director.
Because the equipment isn't in place, Johnston said he doesn't want to designate a specific opening day.
Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti, the chairman of the Blair County Prison Board, said the equipment has to be tested, but he called the opening of the center "so close."
Johnston and the prison board have been working on plans for the booking facility for more than two years.
One of the concerns about opening a countywide center was the cost, so the prison board decided to levy a fee that is part of the "costs" imposed on defendants by the court system.
Those fees have been accumulating, and according to Tomassetti, at last count the county had saved more than $175,000 to pay for the center's operation.
The county obtained a grant through the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association to pay for the equipment.
That grant, plus the money set aside over the last two years, put the county "in good shape to go," said Tomassetti.
The new equipment will include a digital print machine to record finger and palm prints of those being booked.
In March, Johnston said the booking center will be connected to an imaging network with photos, criminal histories and outstanding warrants for those who are being arraigned.
Suspects from throughout Blair County will be booked at the Hollidaysburg facility, which will be connected to local magisterial district judge offices using videoconferencing.
The center will maintain Megan's Law records for Blair County sex offenders.
The county jail is a composite of three different structures - the old section, constructed pre-1900; the new section, built in the 1980s; and a section for females, completed recently.
The main entrance to the jail is on Market Square Alley, the opposite end of the facility from the location of the new booking center.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.