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A county and city at odds over vacant building in Pottsville

POTTSVILLE, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – For barely two weeks, the old Giant Grocery Store building on Progress Street in Pottsville has sat vacant.

But now, the site is home to a great debate: should the property be used to house inmates due to overcrowding at the Schuylkill County Prison?

“This would kind of be a nail in a coffin for us,” said Mark Atkinson, Pottsville City Councilman.

Pottsville Councilman Mark Atkinson would rather use the site for revitalization.

“We got a partnership that is actively looking at it right now for a hotel,” said Atkinson.

But Schuylkill County Commissioners are also looking at purchasing the site.

One possibility? Convert the building into a prison pre-release center.

It could house some inmates and help ease overcrowding at the prison, especially during the pandemic when distancing is a priority.

Schuylkilll County Commissioner Barron Hetherington says that’s not the only option the board is considering. While he wouldn’t commit to when a decision would be made, he did make one thing clear.

“I was appointed by five judges to county, to serve the county, not just one municipality and i have to watch out for what’s right for the county as oppose to any town or borough in the county,” said Hetherington.

Atkinson says council has offered the county other site options to locate a prison pre-release center. He just believes this site in particular isn’t a good fit.

“It would be a very bad thing to have a correctional facility located only a block or two from any business. It would be very hard to continue to lure back into the city,” said Atkinson.

There is a petition to block the county from purchasing and converting the former “giant” into a prison pre-release center. It’s already gathered a couple thousand signatures to let commissioners know residents don’t want it there either.

Chairman Commissioner Hetherington says the county has been looking at land for considerations before the grocery store closed, and is focused on more than just the city of Pottsville.