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Niagara County expects to spend about $16,000 on a new concrete ramp to the jail kitchen for use in loading and unloading vehicles involved with delivery of meals for senior citizen nutrition programs.

The county still plans to move the preparation of those meals to the jail as of July 9, even though the work would not be done by then.

"That will not be a holdup," said County Legislator Gerald K. Farnham, R-Lockport, chairman of the Public Works Committee. "There are other alternatives to get the stuff in."

Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said the new ramp, which would have concrete retaining walls on each side, would make it easier to unload food deliveries and place cooked meals on the vans that take them to senior citizens centers and other nutrition sites across the county.

"I think we're looking down the road to inclement weather," Beilein said. "This isn't going to stop it."

Some employees and patrons of the nutrition program objected to the move of the cooking to the jail from the old mess hall of the former Nike missile base off Shawnee Road in Cambria.

But county officials have repeatedly promised that inmates will not be involved in preparing the senior citizens' meals and that the menus will not be the same as those for the prisoners.

They say that the kitchen, part of the jail expansion completed in the mid-1990s, has a lot of unused capacity and that it makes no financial sense for the county to run two kitchens, although all the workers at the Cambria kitchen are being moved to the jail. The county expects to save $62,000 a year on food by using the same supplier for the senior citizen program that supplies food to the jail.

The county Public Works Department has also estimated that it might cost as much as $150,000 to repair the leaky roof and make other needed building code renovations at the kitchen.

The Building Utilization Committee is expected to include closure of the kitchen in its formal list of recommendations to the Legislature today.

There was a concern last week that the closure of the kitchen might interfere with funding for a proposed senior citizens housing project nearby.

Farnham said the building utilization report might drop the suggestion of selling the kitchen building, although he added, "We're still going to move the kitchen."

Cambria Supervisor Wright H. Ellis said the proximity of the kitchen was mentioned in applications for federal and state funding for a housing complex planned by Burke Bros. Construction Co. of Hamburg.

But Ellis said last week that the kitchen was just "a talking point" in the application. "It's not a make-or-break issue," he said.

Ellis said the Burke Bros. proposal includes a number of small cottages for senior citizens to live with subsidized rents. It is similar to a project turned down by the City of Lockport two years ago.

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