The Lancaster County Commissioners took the first step to building a new prison in a unanimous vote Wednesday.

The board approved an agreement with Clyde and Shirley Kreider to purchase a 78-acre tract of land along the Conestoga River for $3 million. The land would be used for a new prison to replace the county's existing facility, portions of which were built in the 19th century.

"A lot of thanks to people to get to this point," Commissioner Ray D'Agostino said, naming the staff, past officials and even those who raised concerns about the acquisition. "This is a first, bold step."

D'Agostino encouraged residents to keep track of the project on the county's website, where a project section is now available

"The site of the current jail, in the midst of a robust urban area, is not the appropriate location for a use like a jail," Commissioner Craig Lehman said. "The (Kreider site) that we're talking about is very unique and quite frankly as a community as a whole were very lucky to be able to even have an and opportunity to have a site like this for a use like this."

The county will not pay the full amount for the Kreider property immediately. First, the county will have a 90-day due diligence period in which it will conduct environmental surveys, a detailed title search and other reviews to ensure the property is suitable for a prison. The county is able to back out of the deal during this window if it finds the land is not suitable.

After that, the county will have 18 months to take care of any zoning issues with the property, during which time it can similarly back out.

They county will immediately put $100,000 into an escrow account as a deposit. That amount will be deducted from the total if the sale goes through.

Financing for the purchase has not yet been discussed - aside from the $100,000 which will come from the general fund - but the county is sitting on a sizeable savings account and debt is relatively low.

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