Option Is 55-Acre
On Hal Henard Rd.
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Greene County has two options remaining on the table to address the overcrowding at the Greene County Detention Center -- an ongoing problem that played a large role in the jail's recent decertification by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI).
On Thursday, members of three County Commission committees -- the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee, the Law Enforcement Committee, and the Budget & Finance Committee -- held another joint meeting to continue recent discussions about possible solutions.
Members voted to narrow options from the dozen or more they have already been considering into two basic choices:
* buying the previously-considered Wayne Hartman property located on Hal Henard Road, and building a new facility there, or
* expanding and upgrading the current detention center, on East Depot Stree.
The County Commission studied the Hartman property, a 55-acre tract offered at $1 million, in 2007 -- the last time the jail was seriously threatened with decertification by the TCI.
At that time, core drilling of the property and studies of the necessary site preparation work and of the sewer and water lines that would be needed all took place.
In addition, the commission confirmed that the property is within the Town of Greeneville's city limits.
State law requires that any courthouse facilities be located within the county seat, according to information presented to the joint committee by Commissioner Hilton Seay on Thursday.
While a jail itself can be located outside the county seat, it would only increase the county's long-term expenses and liabilities to have to transport inmates between two facilities that are distant from each other in order to bring inmates to court appearances, according to Sheriff Steve Burns.
While building a brand-new, complete justice center with courtrooms, a Sheriff's Department and a detention center would be ideal, Burns said, he also cautioned that funding might extremely limit the project to only the detention center -- and even that could be short of a kitchen and laundry, with no possibility of courtrooms.
Burns and the committees' members have said they would prefer to keep the two facilities (the detention center and the courtrooms) in the same location, as is currently the situation.
That is one of the reasons that upgrades and expansions downtown hold some appeal to the committee members, according to discussion Thursday.
Burns also noted during Thursday's meeting that maintaining the current detention center would save the cost of building a new kitchen and laundry facility, which he estimated at $3 million, or the cost of having to transport food and laundry from the current facility to a new site that housed only cellblocks.
Architect Dave Wright worked with the county on the project in 2007 and has so far volunteered his services during these early stages of reviewing the earlier work.
He provided committee members with a basic satellite image of the downtown block bordered by East Summer Street, South Main Street, East Depot Street and South College Street.
Overlaid onto that image were colored blocks that marked where new construction could potentially take place.
Wright cautioned that the map was very preliminary and that the idea itself was less than 24 hours old.
Burns' idea called for an extension to the current jail and aerial walkways connected across College Street into what could be another, new portion of the jail, at the place where there is currently a Town of Greeneville parking lot.
That parking lot would be shifted south on College Street, toward Summer and McKee streets, if it would be possible to purchase the several lots adjacent to the current parking lot, he said.
Burns said that he has talked to officials of the town and that they are willing to discuss the possibilities of this idea with the county.
The concept is too preliminary for any cost analysis, but the committee asked that Burns continue to develop the idea and work on getting a potential cost of:
* purchasing the current parking lot area, and
* purchasing the former NationsBank building, owned by Scott Niswonger, that is immediately adjacent to the Greene County Courthouse on South Main Street.
This building, Burns said, could house both the Sheriff's Department offices, allowing for the further expansion of jail facilities in the Detention Center building, and the present courthouse offices -- but not the courtrooms.
By using this building for the governmental offices now housed in the courthouse, the current crowded conditions in the courtrooms could be relieved, he suggested.
The Sheriff's Department offices are currently located in the Detention Center building.
Burns and Wright predicted that this plan could add 200 more beds to the jail, with the possibility of adding a second floor to the additions if they are needed later.
The Sheriff's Department's Workhouse, located on Summer Street, would also retain the possibility of an expansion at a later time, giving the county some room for future growth, Burns said.
The sheriff acknowledged that the plan would mean that the Detention Center and the Sheriff's Department would still be land-locked in the downtown area, but he suggested that it could allow for 1,300 beds at its full extension.
"You'd know the future of the jail downtown; you'd know the future of the courthouse," he said. "The beauty of this project is, we wouldn't have any interruption in our daily activities."
Commissioner Wade McAmis, in particular, noted the major improvement projects that the county has completed on these current structures within the last two years and expressed his approval of researching ways to protect that investment.
"We've spent a lot of money just right there lately," he said.
The committees heard briefly from Mike Treadway, of Hodges Associates, who suggested that the committees could speak with an architectural firm from North Carolina that specializes in building jails and justice centers.
He and the committees later agreed, however, that they are too early in the process to discuss the possibility at this time.
PLAN OF ACTION
Meanwhile, Commissioner Robin Quillen said that she had contacted the Tennessee Corrections Institute for further information about the jail's decertification.
On Wednesday, she and Sheriff Burns met here with Lance Howell, the deputy director of the TCI, and Bob Bass, an official with the TCI's County Corrections Program (CCP).
Greene County elected to participate in the CCP during an off-agenda vote in August, Burns recalled.
From that moment, he said, the county was in private discussion with Charles White concerning the possibility of creating a new jail and related facilities at the former Magnavox Plant #3/Philips Consumer Electronics Co./Five Rivers Electronic Innovations, LLC building.
White owns the sprawling, spacious one-story building, now largely unoccupied, which is located at the corner of Kiser Boulevard and Industrial Road.
The committees have since voted not to move ahead on that option.
But the committees did not hold any public meetings to involve elected officials until White was willing to join the conversation and had a price available to the county, Burns said.
As a result of following that procedure, he explained, no official Plan of Action for dealing with the overcrowding problem was able to be voted on or put into place.
In October, Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles, who was not present at Thursday's meeting, went to the TCI's Board of Control meeting, where the Board requested a Plan of Action for dealing with the overcrowding issue.
Mayor Broyles did not have such a plan to submit.
Commissioner Quillen suggested that the TCI officials who visited on Wednesday implied that Broyles passed up several opportunities to simply write a Plan of Action down at the time, or offer any form of plan.
But Sheriff Burns said that TCI proably would not have approved such a plan without a vote of approval from the County Commission.
He recalled that he encountered this problem despite extensive work by the County Commission in 2007.
He said that he was only able to resolve the overcrowding problem at that time by getting a three-month extension from the TCI that allowed him to cut his jail population to just under the jail's capacity: an option that he said is no longer possible because of the extent of the overcrowding.
He also noted that Broyles requested the same three-month extension from the TCI this year and was denied.
Regaining TCI certification will not be possible for 2012, but could be possible for 2013 if the county has some form of Plan of Action in place when TCI conducts its surprise inspection, Burns said.
"I have 100 percent confidence in both of these men," Quillen said of the TCI officials. "Maybe they have some easier ways of doing things."
CCP NOT YET INITIATED
The sheriff confirmed that the new administration of the TCI seemed more willing to work with the county.
The officials, he noted, also said that they had failed to initiate the CCP after it was approved by the County Commission, which Burns said was a part of the problem.
He also noted that some corrections were made on Wednesday to the county's last jail inspection report that were in the county's favor regarding the deputies' logging of security checks.
The CCP, Burns and Quillen explained, is a way in which TCI aids counties -- not in deciding which project they will conduct to deal with the overcrowding, but in facilitating discussions with the counties and aiding in some later designs.
The committees agreed to meet again as soon as Bass is available to provide them with a CCP workshop.