Boggs: Jail could be built by 2020

Published 10:33 am Friday, September 12, 2014

Getting a jail in Lawrence County could be a reality by 2020, if the objectives of the latest jail committee are met.

“If you want to do something down the road, you do it now,” county commission president Les Boggs said. “Ultimately we need a jail in Lawrence County. We could have it completed by 2020.”

Boggs set up the committee recently to explore building a jail in the county to replace the current facility that has repeatedly been in non compliance with the state because of overcrowding.

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The county is already in the process of moving the jail to the now-closed Ohio River Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace to relieve the overcrowding. That would be for a lease of 15 years for $1 a year.

At the meeting, however Boggs questioned if the length of the lease needs to be that long.

The commission president outlined three objectives for the committee: building a new jail; finding an ideal location and finding financing.

The new committee, chaired and set up by Boggs, is made up of a core group who are construction consultant Dave Milem, county treasurer Stephen Burcham, community activist and retired Speedway executive Charles Runyon and Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

Milem was chosen for his construction experience; Burcham for his financial background and Dingus for assistance in finding a location, possibly through acquisitions of the LEDC.

Invited to participate as well via an email sent on Wednesday were members of the former jail committee set up to consider moving the jail to ORVJC.

Attending the meeting from that committee were sheriff Jeff Lawless, common pleas Judge Charles Cooper, architect Shawn Walker and chief deputy Jeff Hitchcock.

“It’s location,” Milem said. “Then you can establish what you want on the other details. We need to get as close as we can to the courthouse. And you don’t want to start out with too little of a lot.”

In the late 1990s a committee was created to devise a plan to build a jail and hire a consultant. All that came of that committee’s effort was the purchase of two houses on the corner of Park Avenue and Sixth Street, originally for parking for the jail. One house was demolished and is now used for parking for the EMA center. The other is used for storage.

Lawless resurrected the idea of having an emergency center with a jail and headquarters for the 911 dispatching, EMA and EMS under the same roof.

“That is ideal,” the sheriff said. “They could all be in the same facility on the front end of the jail. Maybe there would be grant money, if you would pool.”

The commission had considered such a consolidation when it was seeing if Memorial Hall could be saved. But the commissioners voted 2 to 1 against saving the aging structure with Boggs as the dissenting vote.

The timeframe was called reasonable by Walker, who said the group should make up a wish list and then determine its cost.

Building a jail with a flexible size was suggested by Judge Cooper, who noted that Scioto County recently built a facility that sent it into fiscal emergency the next year.

“Our obligation is to think for the future,” he said. “With a flex-size you could say this wing isn’t going to be open until (the jail) it exceeds 80 people.”

The committee will next meet at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 16.