Citizens And Town
Object To Building
Large New Facility
In Downtown Area
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Representatives from Main Street: Greeneville, two downtown churches and Town of Greeneville officials are getting more vocal in their disapproval of the latest proposal for a large new downtown jail.
Recent meetings of the Greene County Courthouse/Workhouse Committee had seen the county considering building a new, multi-level facility in the parking lot at the corner of East Summer and College streets in order to address the overcrowding at the current jail facility and the resulting threat to its state certification.
The 33,000-square-foot footprint of the proposed new facility could have housed between 600 and 1,100 additional inmates by connecting to the current detention facility, according to early projections by Tim Kuykendall, vice president of civil operations for general contractor J.A. Street & Associates.
Kuykendall first proposed the site to the committee several months ago, developing cost estimates and renderings as discussion progressed during each monthly meeting since that time.
Discussion also included purchasing several of the buildings along N. Main Street, including the former First National Bank building immediately adjacent to the courthouse, to tear down for temporary parking and future expansion of the courthouse.
A group of individuals attending Thursday's meeting objected to these plans, questioning the impact it would have on the downtown area.
Of those present, most were with Asbury United Methodist Church, which is located just across from the site of the proposed new jail.
"There's a real possibility that we could lose our church by just members not being able to park," Bob Southerland said.
He noted the remaining features of downtown, including the General Morgan Inn and some tourism features such as the Andrew Johnson homestead.
"To come in downtown and build a future complex like you're talking about, I think you're destroying downtown Greeneville -- or Greeneville itself," Southerland concluded.
Asbury's pastor, the Rev. David Woody, was also among those present.
He expressed serious concern with the proximity of such a facility to the church in light of their child enrichment center, calling it both a safety and a revenue concern.
Commissioner Fred Malone, who chairs the committee, explained that the commission began looking at remaining downtown because people told them that the downtown area would be dead without the courthouse.
Moreover, he said that utilizing the current courthouse and not building a new justice center with courtrooms and offices on a new site would cut the cost of the project in half.
To separate the jail and courthouse, however, would create long-term transportation costs and safety risks related to the transport of prisoners for courtroom procedures.
Dr. Dan Donaldson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said he understood the transportation concerns.
"I'm just concerned about the nature of downtown," he said. "I see the traffic around the jail a lot. If you increase that number [of inmates] to 600 or 900, that would increase the nature of that traffic."
TOWN OFFICIALS OPPOSED
This discussion all ground to a halt, however, as architect Dave Wright reported that Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels and Town Administrator Todd Smith are "not at all on board" with the county's constructing a jail in the Summer Street parking lot, which the Town of Greeneville owns.
Malone expressed his frustration with this report, saying that the county "can't get any response" from the town.
"In September, Mayor [Alan] Broyles called over there, and the city mayor was out of town," Malone said. "We were going to get him to come to the meeting.
"Then, last month, I personally called and left a message to try to get him here then, where we could maybe talk and try to get ideas from the mayor and the city standpoint.
"And that didn't work," he said. "So I don't know."
"I had a good, lengthy conversation with them on Monday," Wright responded. "They're not happy with the direction."
"If they're not happy, why didn't they come and give us some input into the situation?" Malone questioned.
In a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun on Thursday, Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels confirmed that he is "totally opposed" to the county's building a jail in that downtown lot.
"I didn't know anything about [Thursday's] meeting," he said. "I've never known. Fred Malone hasn't talked to me. You would think I would at least get an email or a phone call. Don't just leave a message downstairs."
He clarified that Malone had left a message for him at Town Hall after the October meeting, but that he had not heard anything about Thursday's meeting, despite having seen Sheriff Steve Burns on Wednesday.
"You would think that before they would come out and go to that much trouble to create a design in a piece of property that the city owns that greatly affects the downtown, that we would have some idea of what they were talking about," Daniels said.
He added that he has not heard from any citizens who support building a new jail and that he would not support moving the courthouse.
"I think that is the focal point of the downtown," he said. "I would not be in favor of that locating somewhere else. I just think that would be devastating."
However, during Thursday's meeting, both Commissioner Robert Bird and Wright emphasized the need for a new jail, on a green site, with a justice center -- which would mean moving the courthouse.
"I still think, as a business standpoint, this jail needs to go on that green site," Wright said. "That's going to be the biggest bang for our buck. Bricks and mortar are the cheap part; it's the staffing that's costly.
"We need to keep it where it's expandable, where it can be incrementally done," he added.
"Building downtown will double the cost of operation," Bird said. "If you save $20 million upfront, you ain't saving anything.
"The tax payers are going to have to foot the bill for the annual operation. It's the employees that cost the money."
He emphasized the need for growth area and the potential for using an incendiary garbage disposal system to generate the electricity for the jail and have enough left over to sell to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Such a system is in place in a county in west Tennessee, and some of the commissioners have already visited and studied the possibility, he said.
He described it as non-corrosive and a method to dispose of items on which the county must currently pay a disposal fee: tires, garbage and sewer system sludge.
"It's not been talked about, [but] I'm taking the liberty to talk about it," he said. "I'm trying to think about long-term, not what's going to take care of us for the next 10 years."
Those citizens who were in attendance expressed their interest in this proposal.
"That level of sustainability is community-building," Woody said. "I can get behind that."
Commissioner John Carter emphasized the need for some form of action.
"We've got judges up here that's turning people loose because we don't have a place for them," he said. "And they need to be in jail, some of them. It's a shame."
Several asked the commissioners to not concentrate on cost alone and to consider what would be best for the community and the "vibrancy" of downtown.
They expressed some support for the county's studying the cost of transporting the prisoners in order to leave the courthouse downtown but relocate the jail from such a centralized location.
They noted the potential behind video conferencing technology for arrangements and similar court proceedings.
Main Street: Greeneville Director Jann Mirkov said that the groups would be willing to work with the county moving forward to find information such as statistics on how the placement of a jail downtown might affect business, industry and tourism.