BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Courthouse/Workhouse Committee literally went back to the drawing board on Thursday by reviewing other concept drawings of proposed Greene County justice centers.
Tim Kuykendall, vice president of Appalachia Design Services, attended the meeting to represent J.A. Street & Associates, of Blountville.
J.A. Street was one of two groups willing to present the county with a build-and-lease-to-own option revolving around a hypothetical $40-million justice center on a new site. This option would have featured a jail, courtrooms and offices.
The proposals were designed to address the current jail's overcrowded conditions that brought about a temporary loss of certification last year.
Earlier this month, however, the County Commission voted 14-7 against building on a new site, effectively returning the matter to the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee.
On Thursday, Kuykendall acknowledged the division between commissioners on the issue and called for the committee to seek out a compromise.
"I sense that there are two camps. There's, 'We have no money.' I know that we have no money, not with the unemployment we have right now," he said.
"On the other side, I hear, 'We need a new facility.' With a new facility we can generate income.
"Both sides are true."
As a compromise, Kuykendall proposed that the committee look at options that would cost less than the proposed $40
Half that cost, he said, is in building the courtrooms, offices, and extended parking that makes the proposals a justice center, rather than just a jail.
Of the options he presented, the committee quickly gravitated to an option for expansion within the same downtown block as the current jail facility.
The concept drawing presented featured an aerial view of the block, which is contained within South Main, East Summer, South College and East Depot streets.
Kuykendall's proposal featured a new, five-story detention facility with underground secure parking and an aerial connector that would link it to the current jail facility.
The new jail facility would be located in what is currently a 33,000-square-foot parking lot.
At maximum capacity, it could hold approximately 760 inmates, he said.
Earlier multi-level proposals have met with general disdain as the source of higher operational costs compared with one large, open, singe-level facility.
Sheriff Steve Burns and Kuykendall said, however, that the solution would be to best maximize each level, so that the minimum amount of staff could watch the maximum amount of prisoners on each level.
Burns said that expansion capabilities there and at the workhouse should leave the county with growth potential for decades to come.
'TOWN INPUT NEEDED'
All acknowledged, however, that taking that parking lot for a new building would present a serious downtown parking issue.
"I've heard the city is dying for [the courthouse] to stay downtown," Kuykendall said. "Because if you leave, what's left?"
"All those attorneys are going to leave and come wherever you're at," he later added.
He and others agreed that the Town of Greeneville should work with the county in providing the appropriate parking if the jail and courthouse are to stay downtown.
Chairman Fred Malone said he had asked Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels to be in attendance at their meeting so that they could discuss such issues with a town representative.
"If they're interested, where are they?" Burns later asked. "I said a month ago that, if they're interested, speak up."
The town government's lack of input was not all that concerned Burns, however.
While he said that he would operate any facility the County Commission provides, he said he would also always object to separating the jail from the courthouse, due to the safety issues presented by transporting inmates.
"You never want to take an inmate outside," he said.
Although he said it was not completely unfeasible, he also noted the difficulty presented by Kuykendall's proposal in walking inmates from what would be the new facility, across a walkway, through a portion of the old jail, across the Sheriff's Office, and into the courthouse.
This, Burns said, would require walking inmates about a block to get to the courtrooms.
To better accommodate this new structure, he proposed tearing down the four-story former First National Bank building adjacent to the courthouse on South Main Street.
The bank building has been located there since 1925. The building's last occupants, the Milligan & Coleman law firm, vacated the building in late 2006.
The county has explored renovating this building for courtrooms and offices in the past, but found it to be completely out of code for all handicap purposes and in need of too many fixes to make renovation financially feasible, Burns said.
Burns said that tearing it down and building a new facility farther back, as well as possibly tearing down other immediately adjacent buildings, could relieve the current courthouse, which he said is regularly at-capacity, sometimes requiring individuals to stand outside or sit in their car until others leave.
Scott Niswonger owns these buildings and once intended to replace them with an Enterprise Center featuring business offices.
This was an element in the "Rediscover Greeneville" project, which was proposed in 2007 and later put on hold because of the recession that hit in 2007-2008.
"You can't sell that idea, Steve," Commissioner Tim White told Burns of including courtrooms in the project.
Chairman Fred Malone also agreed that the County Commission would be more likely to approve a project that did not build new courtrooms and offices and only addressed the jail.
Burns, however, said that not looking at future courtroom growth options while looking at jail growth options would be "wasting your time."
White urged commissioners to begin leading the discussion so that the commission can find a compromise.
"We're trying to be financially responsible," White said. "We're not just trying to roll the dice. We ain't going to be able to keep throwing out $30 to $40 million ideas and get it sold to this commission.
"We might could get the commission to agree to $20 million with stories incomplete," he added.
"This commission won't leave nothing open-ended," he later told Kuykendall. "They don't trust each other. This commission don't like each other. As a whole, we don't function very well."
The committee called for Kuykendall to study the cost of building the five-story jail extension, with at least two stories empty for future expansion in the downtown area.
Members also heard from Joe Tripp, a nurse who has previously been a parole officer and prison nurse. Tripp called on the county to use inmate labor when building the jail.
Burns said that he is open to the idea, but noted that the county is using inmate labor to fill a number of needs in numerous county departments already, a practice often resulting in the utilization of every available jail trustee.