March 17, 2010

HARD TIMEFOR OLD PRISONNavy trying again to lease out 100-year-old former prison

By DAVID SHARP Associated Press Writer

— By DAVID SHARP

SHIPYARD PRISON
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SHIPYARD PRISON

AP

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**ADVANCE FOR MONDAY APRIL 14**The 100-year-old prison at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is pictured in Kittery, Maine, on Friday, April 11, 2008. The Navy is looking once again to lease the castle-like structure overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The 1908 prison is one of 14 Navy sites that are part of its Enhanced Use Lease Program, a privatization effort aimed at leasing no-longer-needed facilities.(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

AP

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The Associated Press

KITTERY — For Rent: Historic waterfront building with 265,000 square feet of space. Fabulous ocean views. Unique architecture. Easy transportation access.

Needs work.

Lots of work.

The Navy is looking once again to lease Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's 100-year-old prison, an imposing castle-like structure overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, to the right tenant, one who won't shy away from environmental problems including asbestos and lead paint.

About 30 to 40 organizations that have expressed interest in leasing the facility will attend a forum this week in Durham, N.H., and get a firsthand look at the structure.

''We anticipate a cross section. You have some real estate companies, developers, construction firms and local businessmen,'' said R.H. Swiader, a Navy real estate representative.

The Navy tried to redevelop the prison in the late 1990s and signed a lease with New Hampshire developer Joseph Sawtelle to turn the prison into premium office space. That project fell through when Sawtelle died in 2000. Then came the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now the Navy is restarting the process.

The prison is one of 14 Navy sites that are part of its Enhanced Use Lease Program, a privatization effort aimed at leasing no-longer-needed facilities ranging from warehouse space in Virginia to aircraft hangars in Florida to a marina in Maryland.

The prison may be the most unusual.

The structure, dating to 1908, features medieval architecture with turrets that give it the appearance of a castle or fortress. Over the years, the Navy expanded the prison several times, and more than 80,000 prisoners spent time there before it closed in 1974.

Since then, it has fallen into disrepair.

''They just unplugged it and left. All of the pipes broke. It got vandalized. All of the ceilings came in. Birds live in there. It's just a mess,'' said Thomas Guillory, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who lives in a nearby town and served as a prison guard in 1967 and 1968.

On a recent day, there were vines growing over parts of the concrete exterior. Windows were covered with plywood, chain-link fencing or rusty steel bars. One of the doors to the administrative building, built in 1912, slammed open and shut in the wind. A piece of metal gutter flapped overhead.

Inside, floors are buckled, pipes are broken and electrical fixtures dangle. Looters tried to take part of the copper roof and marble from bathrooms, Guillory said.

That said, it's a solid structure with a lot of potential, said Cmdr. David Kelly, deputy commander of base operations at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The original structure consists of a six-story cellblock with catwalks for the guards, but the rest of the structure is mostly wide open, he said.

And the location can't be beat. In addition to its ocean views, the property is an hour from Portland to the north and Boston to the south. Interstate 95 is nearby and the Pease International Trade Terminal is only 10 minutes away, Kelly said.

And about those views.

From inside the prison's administrative offices, you can see the Isles of Shoals 10 miles out to sea, Kelly said. ''The views are absolutely priceless,'' he said.

Because it's located on an active Navy installation that overhauls nuclear submarines, there are basic security concerns that preclude certain types of developments, like retail shops or a hotel or any other facility that would draw in members of the public, Kelly said.

''Nine-eleven changed the security paradigm for all military facilities,'' Kelly said, and prompted a Navy review of whether such developments were appropriate. ''We have determined that there are ways that we can do that but still maintain the security posture that we need,'' he said.

If all goes well, the Navy hopes to have a contract signed in the spring of 2009.

There's plenty of folklore surrounding the prison, located on Seavey Island in the Piscataqua River that separates Maine and New Hampshire.

There are stories about Humphrey Bogart and Walt Disney both spending time at the brig, but that's not true. There may be some truth to the Bogart story, however; his biographer, Nathaniel Benchley, wrote that Bogart was attacked in Boston in 1918 while escorting a prisoner to the brig.

Personnel from four German U-boats stayed in the prison before being transferred to a POW camp after surrendering during World War II.

Guillory said there are plenty of stories to be told, including the solitary confinement where rabble-rousers were deprived of light and sound.

Overall, though, it was a pleasant place with an emphasis on rehabilitation. There was a grammar school and high school and college coursework.

''When you come back from Vietnam, and you came back to a place like that where it's clean and there are flush toilets, then that's good duty,'' said Guillory, who served a combat tour in Vietnam. ''Any Marine who worked there would tell you it was excellent duty.''

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

**ADVANCE FOR MONDAY APRIL 14**Vines grow out of an open space that is part of the 100-year-old prison at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is pictured in Kittery, Maine, on Friday, April 11, 2008. The Navy is looking once again to lease the castle-like structure overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The 1908 prison is one of 14 Navy sites that are part of its Enhanced Use Lease Program, a privatization effort aimed at leasing no-longer-needed facilities.(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

AP

  


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