Commission to soon get public feedback on new jail construction

Published 3:00 am Friday, December 14, 2018

Members of the public will soon get to have their say about the future of the Pike County Jail.

The Pike County Commission has already decided to build a new jail and levied a temporary sales tax to fund the project.

There is still a long way to go though before any new facility is built, and part of that process will be a series of public meetings to gather the public’s feedback about the different options on the table.

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“Good decisions are made when you get good ideas,” said Ken Upchurch, cofounder of TCU Consulting, the firm assisting the county in the planning of the jail. “When you have a project that is as important to Pike county as this new jail and whatever other pieces of the puzzle may go with it makes a lot of sense to get some good public input to make a decision in the best interest of all of Pike County.”

As of now, the meetings are planned to take place some time in late January to early February, with multiple meetings being held at different times to give people an opportunity to attend and weigh in.

The public will have a variety of options presented to them at the meeting, with eight different potential layouts designed.

Most of those options include a multi-story jail in the same vicinity where the current jail sits, while two options offer different sites with one-story floor plans.

Upchurch said the different proposals will be put on display boards for residents to view and consider as the pros and cons of each option are explained. Once all options have been discussed by TCU staff, residents will be welcomed to the microphone to share their own ideas and thoughts about the options so far.

“We structure them for the public to say ‘I like this’ and ‘I don’t like this’ and ‘What if we do this?’” Upchurch said. “When there’s a lot of interest, you tend to start a debate and that is not the purpose of this public meeting; it is to be a fact-gathering and opinion-gathering session.”

Commission Vice Chairman Russell Johnson said it is important for residents to weigh in because all of the options have some drawbacks as well as benefits.

“Every site we’ve looked at has had issues, whether it is the allowance for us to build something that is functionally feasible to operate that we can afford, how easily they’ll be accessible to the community in general or how they allow for future growth,” Johnson said. “The whole reason the county has gone through this jail study is to make sure we make the right decision and we are taking into consideration all relevant facts, present and future … This will be the largest expenditure of money the county will have ever made; we want that to be done right and we want the people to be a part of that.”

The county had previously been presented seven options for the jail, six of which were building a three-story jail either at the current jail site or in the adjacent parking area. The other option was to build a one-story “justice center” on land the county already owns near the Pike County Road Department near the northern border of Troy.

The commission announced Monday that another potential site had been looked at by TCU for consideration – the current site of the Dunbar Drive public housing under the Troy Housing Authority. Troy Housing Authority recently told residents that they are looking to dispose of the property and sell it, moving current residents to another Troy Housing Authority property or giving them vouchers to live elsewhere.

The layout at this site would also be one floor and could potentially include more components of the justice system than just the jail – the plans allow for the sheriff’s office, district attorney’s office and courts to be relocated to the site as well.

“All of those pieces need to be thought about in the big picture,” Upchurch said. “It doesn’t mean they all need to be part of this solution, but if you don’t put it all on the table and ask what we call the ‘What if?’ questions, you narrow your chances for long-term success.”

Commissioners have discussed concerns about building the jail upward as it could make future discussions possible. Upchurch also brought up concerns about the construction process taking place downtown at the jail’s current site, which would disrupt parking and traffic in the area until the facility can be built.

In addition to the public meetings, Upchurch said there will be a survey or forum online for people that can’t make it out to the meetings or simply want to participate on the internet.

At the end of the public meetings, the residents in attendance will be able to select their top three options.

“It’s not scientific, but it will show the public input on where the favorite solution lies,” Upchurch said.