Public hearing on jail today in Brundidge

Published 10:01 pm Monday, February 18, 2019

The first of two public hearings on a new Pike County Jail will be held this afternoon at Brundidge Station.

The hearings will offer residents an opportunity to share their feedback on the entire jail construction process, specifically focusing on eight layout options that have been drafted.

The meeting is being hosted by TCU Consulting Services, the third party firm that created the possible facility and site options and conducted a comprehensive study detailing the future needs for a jail to meet and how much each option would cost.

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“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, 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,” said Ken Upchurch, cofounder of TCU.

The first hearing will be held today from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Brundidge Station and a second hearing will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Pike County Courthouse on Thursday.

Upchurch said the meetings are being held in different times and places to give more options for people to attend. Everyone is welcome to come to either or both of the meetings.

The commissioners will not be speaking or answering questions; instead, the commissioners said the purpose of this meeting is to get all questions, concerns and ideas from the public so that the commission can consider the public’s feedback and come up with solutions or answers later in the process.

The public will have a variety of options presented to them at the meeting, with eight different potential layouts designed, with varying additional pieces such as the sheriff’s office, courthouse and district attorney’s office. 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.

“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.”

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.”

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.