05/20/14 — County eyes alternate jail site

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County eyes alternate jail site

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 20, 2014 1:46 PM

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Members of the Wayne County Facilities Committee look over large aerial photos Monday afternoon as they look at options for a new jail -- including county-owned property on North William Street. From left, are: Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery, Interim County Manager George Wood, Commissioner Wayne Aycock, Facilities Director Milford Smith and Commissioner Ray Mayo, committee chairman.

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The former Masons store property on William Street

County-owned property on North William Street purchased several years ago with an eye toward its serving as a possible home for the Wayne County Health Department is getting a second look, but this time as the site for a new jail.

That look comes as Wayne County commissioners' initial eagerness over the prospect of converting the shuttered Wayne Correctional Center near Cherry Hospital into a new jail appears to be cooling.

It has been eight months since state budget cuts closed the facility, and commissioners are no closer to knowing if the state will convey the former prison property to the county.

The county's legislative delegation supports giving the property to the county. But commissioners want to meet with Department of Correction officials soon in hopes of getting an answer. They also want to know how much of the nearly 54-acre site would be made available. Another issue is whether the land would be given outright, or if the state would want a lease.

Commissioner John Bell, chairman of the commission's Detention Center Advisory Committee, has urged the board to avoid a lease. Bell has said the county could put a lot of work and money into the prison only to have the state take it back.

Also, earlier this month, Bell said commissioners need to be prepared with a backup plan, just in case the state does not give the property to the county.

Commissioners are in a hurry because the county is losing money daily on its existing jail. Because the jail lacks enough space, some prisoners have to be housed at other county jails. That is costing Wayne nearly $900,000 a year.

That situation and the uncertainty over the prison property prompted the committee to revisit the old Masons department store property on North William Street that the country bought several years ago.

Committee members spent more than an hour Monday afternoon poring over large aerial photos of the two sites. They compared the acreages, both about 10 acres, building sizes and how easily they could be renovated.

Moseley Architects, headquartered in Richmond, Va., has been hired to design the detention center. That will include studying the William Street property.

The county has set aside $5 million for the project.

County officials will now negotiate a contract with Moseley and come up with a scope of work for board approval.

However, nothing can be finalized until the county has a site.

Space is a key issue because Sheriff Larry Pierce wants to consolidate his operations at a law enforcement center, Interim County Manager George Wood said. Currently, the Sheriff's Office operates out of the jail on South William Street and an annex off U.S. 117 Alternate. If those offices were to move from the existing jail building, it could free up space for the probation and parole offices, he said.

"Another thing that the sheriff pointed out is location," commission Chairman Wayne Aycock said. The William Street property is close to the existing U.S. 70 and the new U.S. 70 Bypass, he said. The William Street property is less than a mile from the county courthouse. The old prison site is three miles away.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery said the county also has to account for the additional cost of providing infrastructure, such as fiber optic cable, to the prison site.

Another advantage to the old Masons building is its size, Daughtery said.

The county is looking at jail cell modules that can be set into the building. Because of the height of the ceiling, they could be stacked two high at the Masons property, effectively doubling the number of cells.

That would not be possible at the old prison site, where one building is only one story. An older two-story building there would not work as well either because of the number of weight-bearing columns that take up space and the large amount of ductwork in the ceiling, committee members said.

It was asked whether having a jail on a major thoroughfare leading into the city was a good idea. Some committee members noted that other cities have no problem with erecting jails in prominent locations and that if the Masons property is used, it could be partially hidden by landscaping.