Residents discuss new jail project

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, February 21, 2019

Ken Upchurch told residents at a public meeting Thursday night that the need for a new Pike County Jail isn’t debatable.

But where there is need for debate, he said, is the location and the future of what that jail looks like.

More than 70 residents of the county packed the main courtroom of the Pike County Courthouse Thursday night to share their thoughts and concerns about the project so far.

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Fromer law enforcement officer David Johnson thanked the commission and everyone involved for making the decision to get to the point of building a new jail.

“I am a retired police officer and lifelong resident of Pike County and I want to thank everybody that has had anything to do with getting us to this point,” Johnson said. “It’s thrilling. I started 41 years ago as an officer and the day I started to work that jail was full to overcrowded and inadequate. That jail and I are the same age. So in 26 years, it was completely inadequate. I’d like to see everyone involved here, let’s think about the future generation. A one-story jail is safer for the inmates, operators and jail personnel.

“We need to use this chance to build a legacy for future generations,” Johnson said. “Let’s put aside what we want right now and think about those people.”

Johnson said he likes the idea of locating the jail at the Dunbar Drive site currently owned by the Troy Housing Authority because it allows for the jail to have room for expansion while remaining at one story and distancing the facility from most residents. The Troy Housing Authority is considering a disposition and sale of the property and the commission has expressed interest in the property as a potential jail location.

Upchurch, cofounder of TCU Consulting Services, which conducted the feasibility study for the county, said there are also five other private sites being considered that would have a “justice center” layout similar to the site layout at Dunbar Drive, which would keep the jail one story with room for expansions and would also relocate the courts and sheriff’s office to the new site.

Many people came to voice concerns about the possibility of the  jail being located at the Dunbar Drive site.

“I live about a mile from the Dunbar site,” said Sonny Kirkpatrick. “Take away my house and neighbors out of it though; there would be a maximum security jail a mile from the kindergarten, from the elementary school; no matter how well we make that maximum security, eventually – God forbid – there will be a mistake and we’re giving them access to our children. I think it’s a bad idea.”

Vicki Robinson, a teacher that lives within a mile of the Dunbar property, said she has concerns that building the jail at Dunbar would deter new families from coming in.

“They don’t want to see the jail as a landmark site near a school,” Robinson said. “I see less business coming to this area and I don’t see the ability to attract families.”

Another resident near the area expressed concerns about property devaluation due to a jail in that area and safety being near the jail.

Upchurch said he has not found the relocation to have a major effect on property values because the area is so small that the jail will be within a few miles of most homes no matter where it is located in the city.

Upchurch referenced that the new jail in Montgomery, more than five times bigger than the proposed Pike County Jail is “across the street from one of the finest schools in the city.”

“That doesn’t mean that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” Upchurch said. “But that’s what they did.”

Some residents brought up concerns about what would happen to the Boys and Girls Club and the residents of Dunbar, but Upchurch said that question can only be answered by the Troy Housing Authority as they are the entity considering the disposal and sale of the property.

Resident Katie Strickland said she appreciated the concerns of other homeowners near proposed sites, but pointed out that the current jail is also near many homes.

Earl Ellis said he is concerned about moving other governmental operations out of downtown Troy.

“My concern is we’d be diluting our central county government,” Ellis said. “I’ve always thought of Downtown Troy as the seat of government. Several county agencies have already gotten away from downtown and it makes it really inconvenient … I think that if we really think about it much better for government services continue to be downtown.”

Upchurch said the one bright side is that an offsite option would allow the county commission to move back to the courthouse and increase space for records and archives as well as bringing other county offices back downtown. The sheriff’s office, clerk’s office, courts and jail would all move offsite.

Another resident said the costs of a three-story building, which Upchurch said is the only viable solution for keeping the jail at its downtown site, are not feasible and should be ruled out, but said the residents needed to see more information about what the cost option is for the jail to be one story at it’s current site.

Upchurch said the consulting firm has looked into many possibilities during the course if tis study and did look into the possibility of filling in land to construct a one-story jail on the site, but that it was simply too costly to reasonably consider.

Upchurch also said traffic in the area of Dunbar has been considered as a part of moving the jail out there and that they believe it could be dealt with effectively by limiting entrance and exit to the site.

In addition to hearing feedback and answering questions from residents, Upchurch also laid out the process that the consulting firm took to determine what size the jail should be, where it could work and how much it would cost.

Whether onsite or offsite, Upchurch said the jail complex will cost approximately $30 million factoring in programming costs and potential land costs.