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County breaks ground on judicial complex

The Pike County Commission broke ground Tuesday on a judicial complex that has been years in development.

The complex will not only replace the county’s obsolete jail, it will also include a building for the county’s court system, an administration building for the Pike County Sheriff’s Office as well as a 175-bed correctional facility. The complex will also include a building for consolidated emergency dispatch officers and the Pike County Emergency Management Agency.

“This is a good day,” Pike County Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan said. “It’s taken a while. It’s something we lost sleep over, prayed over and then lost more sleep over and did more praying.”

Sullivan said Pike County had the oldest jail in the state. He said everyone agreed the county needed a new jail, and the original site looked like a good idea. But, he said after a feasibility study was done, it was too costly to rebuild on the new site. He said additional sites were looked at and the location of the old Dunbar Housing Project on U.S. Highway 29 between Troy and Banks fit the bill.

“This is not a Pike County project,” Sullivan said. “It’s a community a project. We talked to the sheriff’s office, the judges and many other people. The input we got from them was applied to how we went about the process.

“When we had the feasibility study done, we thought 120 beds for the jail would be enough. We found out it wouldn’t be. We had to build something for the future, so we wouldn’t be having the same problems 10 years from now.”

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said the new judicial complex was long time in coming.

“Soon, we’ll no longer have the distinction of having the oldest jail in the state,” Thomas said. “A lot of thought went into this and it was a slow process, because we wanted to do it right. The commission took a bold step and put politics aside. In 2021, 2022, 2023 and beyond, we’ll be moving toward where we need to be.”

According to Sullivan, project developer TCU Consulting believes the facility will be operation within an 18-month window. When that happens, Thomas said the new facility will eliminate a lot of concerns in the sheriff’s office.

“When I took office in 1995, we needed a new jail,” Thomas said. “It’ something we’ve managed for 27 years. But, the original jail was build in 1957 when the population of Pike County was about 10,000 and it was made for 40 inmates and no female inmates.

“Today, we have a population of about 30,000 people and we have as many as 16 female inmates and 80 to 100 male inmates a day.”

Thomas said the old jail leaked when it rained and had become rusted out. He said there were gaps in the roof, the foundation had shifted and the walls had to be supported to keep from falling over. Thomas said inmates would regularly pluck rusted metal from the jail and make shivs. He said there were blind spots in the jail where inmates could get the jump on corrections officers.

Thomas also said a big security concern was always present when court was in session because jailers had to bring the inmates across the parking lot into the courthouse. He said the inmates would be exposed to their victims and the victim’s families.

He said in some cases, inmates would ask to use the courthouse restrooms. Thomas said that was often a ploy to pick up contraband that had been hidden in the restrooms.

Thomas said the new facility will eliminate all of those concerns. He said the new facility will include a tunnel from the sheriff’s building to the court building to move inmates back and forth on trial days. He said this will prevent inmates from being exposed to the public.

Thomas said the new facility will also give the sheriff’s office much needed space. He said when the original jail was built, it included only two offices. He said the new facility will include plenty of space for sheriff’s department operations. He said in addition to offices for personnel, there will be two evidence rooms, a forensics room and conference rooms for training.

“We’ll finally have someplace for all of us to work,” Thomas said.

The bid price for the complex was $36 million.