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Dunbar selected as jail site

After months of discussion and evaluation, the decision has been made to locate a new Pike County Jail at the Dunbar Drive property.

The Pike County Commission voted 4-2 in favor of selecting the site and making an offer of $1.6 million to the Troy Housing Authority to purchase the property once all tenants have been relocated.

The vote came after some debate amongst commissioners about whether there still needed to be another public hearing before moving forward with a vote.

Commissioner Charlie Harris, District 5, and Homer Wright, District 1, said the commission had discussed holding another public hearing before taking a vote on the jail site, while other commissioners said they believed the agreement was to only have consultant Ken Upchurch publicly present the evaluation of both the Dunbar and Road Department sites.

“I know for a fact we said public hearing in executive session,” Harris said. “We were supposed to have another hearing before we voted and we need to stick to our word.”

Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4, said there had been talk about having another hearing in earlier discussions, when the county was still considering up to six sites.

“These two sites have been out in the public eye for months,” Copeland said. “If we were still considering another site outside of these two, I think we would have no choice but to wait and hear the public feedback on it. But we’ve already had two public hearings with feedback about these sites.”

Wright argued that the public needed to be clear on when the commission was making a decision and what opportunity for interaction there would be.

“This is not good for our constituents,” Wright said. “They need to know what the heck is going on. They have as much right to input as we do. They put us up here, so we have to make sure we’re making the right decision.”

Chairman Robin Sullivan said, at this point, there is no more information to collect and that the county needed to move forward with site selection so the engineering and design phase can begin.

Wright and Harris ultimately voted against selecting Dunbar, while Jimmy Barron, Sullivan and Russell Johnson voted in favor of selecting Dunbar. Wright and Harris had previously voiced support for the county’s road department site.

Prior to the business meeting vote, Upchurch shared the details of TCU Consulting Services’ evaluation of the two sites, including costs.

Upchurch said a total of 10 sites were submitted for consideration, some solicited and others unsolicited. Four were quickly eliminated due to size or infrastructure qualifications. After more research into the remaining six sites, the commission narrowed the field to four for an analysis of costs as well as pros and cons. The commission ultimately decided in executive session previously to limit the decision to the two sites that had been public since early on in the process.

Upchurch did reveal one of the other two sites heavily considered by the commission – the Henderson, Black and Green property in Downtown Troy. He only referred to the other property as being on South U.S. Highway 231.

Despite the $1.6 million purchase price on the Dunbar site, Upchurch said it would be cheaper overall to develop due to the presence of sufficient utilities and infrastructure in the area. The total development cost estimate at Dunbar was $1.92 million.

The road department site, despite already being county property, would actually cost about $2.06 million.

“Free is not always free,” Upchurch said. “There are no land costs at the road department site, but development costs a little over $2 million. Our position is that of all the sites you’ve looked at, comparing development costs, the most economical site financially is the Dunbar site. It is also the closest to the majority population center.”

The estimates included installing traffic lights at both sites, which Upchurch said is much more expensive on U.S. Highway 231 than it is on U.S. Highway 29.

The county would also be paying to demolish the homes at Dunbar, which factors in at about $200,000, but the total development cost still came in lower at the Dunbar site.

Now that the commission has decided on where to build the new jail facility, it will be moving forward with the selection of an architect.