Citing the high cost of operating the Hocking Correctional Unit, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Wednesday that it plans to close the prison near Nelsonville by the end of March.

A Nelsonville official said the closure would deal a "crippling" financial blow to the town.

The 430 inmates at the minimum-security facility will be moved to other prisons and its 110 employees will be offered jobs at other facilities, some of which are nearby, said Grant Doepel, a spokesman for the department of correction.

In a fact sheet, the correction department described the Hocking facility as "outdated." It was built in 1952 as a hospital for tuberculosis patients. It later functioned as a children's center before being turned over to the state prisons agency in 1982, Doepel said.

The department said that it costs $65 per-person, per-day to house inmates at the Nelsonville facility. That compares to an average of $21 per-inmate, per-day at similar prison facilities in Richland, Belmont and Trumbull Counties, Doepel said.

Across the entire Ohio prison system, the per-day cost to house an inmate is $72.

Nelsonville City Council President Ed Mash said the sudden announcement and quick closure of the facility would blow a massive hole in the budget of the southeastern Ohio town of 5,300.

"It's going to destroy us," said Mash, who himself retired from the prison three-and-a-half years ago. "Even though they're not in the city limits, they use our utilities."

Closure will mean Nelsonville — a former coal town — will lose $300,000 in annual water-and-sewer payments from the state, Mash said. That's in a town that collects about $5 million a year in general revenue.

Also lost to the town will be business from prison employees and the prison itself, Mash said.

"This is one of the biggest employers we have," he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2016 estimated that 40 percent of Nelsonville's residents live below the poverty level.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a union that represents 86 of the corrections officers at Hocking, also took issue with the planned closure.

In a statement, it said it would hold the corrections department to promises that Hocking unit workers would be employed elsewhere. But it added that the closure would exacerbate overcrowding in other prisons.

“We know that DR&C has not reduced its inmate population as they had expected to," Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said. "This closure could make a bad situation even worse, leading to increased levels of overcrowding and violence, which is always a concern for us."

The corrections department disputed that assertion.

It said recent reforms by the General Assembly had resulted in an overall Ohio prison population of 49,517 — 900 fewer inmates than last year.

"We have capacity at other places to house these individuals," Doepel said.

In a letter to department of correction Director Gary Mohr, state Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, called the closure "shortsighted."

"Rather than pulling the rug out from under the families of this area, I am asking that you immediately halt any efforts to close this facility and instead invest that time and energy in working with myself and my community to address any issues you believe exist to warrant closure of this facility," he said

Mash, the Nelsonville council president, said he understands the desire to reduce the number of Ohioans behind bars, but he added that an effective way to do it would be to convert the Nelsonville unit into a facility that teaches inmates life skills for when they're released from prison.

"A lot of these people don't even have those skills," he said.