Parking Lot Behind
Existing Jail Studied,
With Cost Estimated
At About $20 Million
BY KEN LITTLE
The discussion about building a new county jail focused on a proposed downtown site behind the existing jail during a meeting Thursday of the Greene County Courthouse/Workhouse Committee.
Cost is the reason county commissioners are considering the downtown site, which would allow continued use of the Greene County Courthouse and the administrative areas of the Greene County Sheriff's Department.
Tim Kuykendall, vice president of civil operations for general contractor J.A. Street & Associates, will report back to the committee at its Nov. 21 meeting with cost estimates for several building plans at the downtown site.
The proposed new detention facility would cover 33,000 square-feet and include additional support space.
The site would border East Summer Street, on a parking lot currently owned by the Town of Greeneville.
The concept for the new jail facility that drew the most interest among committee members is a plan that includes a ground floor with administrative offices, along with a kitchen and laundry, a second floor containing cells for more than 300 inmates, and another level left as an empty shell that could be converted in the future into an additional cell block.
The building would cost about $20 million, in contrast to a recently proposed $40 million justice center on a site off Hal Henard Road that would also include courtrooms and other administrative offices.
One financing option being considered is a 20-year lease agreement between the county and a consortium including banks, the contractor and the architect chosen for the project, committee Chairman Fred Malone said Friday.
"What we're trying to avoid is a tax increase," Malone said. "The working plan is that we're trying to get something sufficient that the commissioners will go along with."
Once the lease is paid off, the county would assume ownership of the new detention center building, Malone said.
If a new detention center is built, the current jail, which opened in 1987, would continue to house inmates and alleviate the ongoing crowding issues, according to discussion at the meeting.
The new detention center building could be connected by corridor to the existing jail, Kuykendall said.
The detention center design with additional floor options "would support all your infrastructure downtown," including cell space and parking, Kuykendall said.
A four-story building could house 1,100 inmates, he said.
"With this design, there is some flexibility to arrange it," Kuykendall said. "If you're thinking about a reduced budget, you're not going to have those two (above-ground) floors."
PARKING LOT PROPOSED
Under the proposal, a new parking lot would be built on the site of the former First National Bank building on South Main Street owned by businessman Scott Niswonger.
The parking lot could also be used as the future site of additional courtrooms to address the crowded situation at the Greene County Courthouse, Kuykendall said.
The four-story brick building, which dates from the mid-1920s, is part of the Greeneville Historic District and was a center of banking activity and attorneys' offices for more than a half-century.
Although the building's last occupants vacated it in 2006, no structure within the Historic District can be legally demolished without advance approval being given by the Greeneville Historic Zoning Commission.
The former bank was in the news earlier this summer when Niswonger arranged for a moving electric U.S. flag that has been atop the building since the 1920s to be fully repaired, upgraded and relighted on the evening of July 4 as part of a Town of Greeneville-sponsored Independence Day Celebration.
Prior to July 4, the electric flag had been out of service, and therefore dark, for more than a decade.
For most of the years since the first version of the electric flag was put in place in the 1920s, however, it had been a familiar, highly visible part of the downtown area.
HOPES FOR AGREEMENT
A decision on a course of action must be made soon, Malone said after the meeting.
"We're hoping we can get commissioners to go along. They didn't want to go along with the green site by the (Greene Technology Center) on Hal Henard Road," Malone said. "It cost $40 million, and they voted it down."
The committee hopes to reach a consensus soon on a plan of action.
"If we can get it done and the city will go along with us, then we won't have to build the court systems and all that, and we can do it at half the price," Malone said.
Construction proposals under consideration by the committee are intended to address crowded conditions for inmates at the current jail that prompted a temporary loss of state certification last year.
The County Commission voted 14-7 in September against building a justice center on a new site, effectively returning the matter to the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee.
One of the proposals needs to be acted on soon, Malone said.
"We're not actually saying we'll do it right now, but we'll have it in place," Malone said.
BURNS: PLAN CAN WORK
Sheriff Steve Burns told the committee the proposal can work.
"You got a vacant lot. You got some properties," he said. "We can do it there. Not only that, you're helping develop (downtown)."
Burns said the state wants county commissioners to act soon on one of the proposals.
"They want the county to decide on something. That's all they're saying, and this has been going on since 2007," he said.
Commissioner Jimmy Sams said the committee should concentrate on a proposal "we might be able to sell the commissioners."
"I think it would be worth your while to build a shell," Burns said, referring to a third floor of the building that could later be finished out with inmate cells. A fourth floor could also be included, he said.
But, he added, "It's going to cost more later to add on."
Kuykendall will come back with scaled-back plans for the committee to consider in November.
Each floor with jail cells will cost about $9 million, he said.
"Budget-wise, I will start out with a ground floor and one level of cells and the (second-floor) shelling," Kuykendall said.
"If we want to separate the justice center from the jail, there is an economical day-one cost."
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.
MAYOR DANIELS COMMENTS
Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels, who was asked about the proposal later Thursday, said he would like more information about the proposed downtown detention center.
"I told Sheriff Burns two years ago that I had not seen any kinds of architectural drawings. We just need to know (more)," Daniels said.
"We are willing to work with the county any way we can and take care of their needs."
Daniels said he wasn't aware of the meeting last month where the downtown jail option was discussed.
"(Sheriff Burns) had some ideas that are workable.We just need to work out a deal," Daniels said. "The courthouse is such an integral part of downtown."
-- Sun Editor John M. Jones Jr. also contributed to this article.