Lewis would not comment on whether he would contribute financially to establishing a substance abuse treatment center, nor how much the project could cost. He noted how, in 1998, he estimated the cost to be upwards of $15 million.
Lewis said county officials have agreed to tour the Daytop facility in Mendham, N.J., to determine if a similar institution would be beneficial to Essex County.
"If we're going to have one and it's going to have my involvement, it's going to be here [in Essex] where I can take a heavy hand in making sure that it runs correctly; making sure that it's absolutely beautiful to look at and you can eat off the floor," said Lewis.
Lewis said his goal would be to renovate the County Home to house an administrative building for a new addiction treatment center, then add two adjoining properties where the private, nonprofit organization would construct residential homes for those undergoing treatment and an agricultural learning center where they would help care for young cattle as part of their therapy.
The two parcels, which Lewis refers to as the North Farm and the South Farm, are both owned by Dr. Robert Thall and, taken together, are assessed at more than $650,000. Lewis said he has not contacted Thall to determine if he would consider selling the properties.
"Those two areas are ideal for an agrarian-based, community-supported system which will take kids from this area... and get them so they're healed and put them back to work," Lewis told the Essex Town Board.
"This place would be the Mecca if it were done correctly," he added. "There's some very good people in this community that could make this facility work very, very well."