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Friday, July 12, 2019

Where to build a justice center
Members of the Cocke County Corrections Partnership, meeting Thursday evening, discussed two possible locations for a jail or justice center; adjacent to the current courthouse or on county owned property on Cope Boulevard. Chair of the Committee Commissioner Gary Carver, who is a city planner for Newport, laid out the costs associated with both sites, and by the end of the meeting, there appeared to be a consensus that the Cope site would be the more feasible site. A community forum has been planned to explain the options to concerned citizens, and to answer any questions. It is scheduled for 6 pm, July 30 at Newport City Hall. Carver said purchasing needed property to the west of the courthouse for a multi-level jail would mean purchasing property that currently has a total appraised value of $297,100, and removal of the buildings likely would cost an additional $200,000. But it is not known if the property owners would be willing to sell at market value. Another option would be to construct a jail, taking in the current Smith Repair Shop and the Manes Funeral parking on Court Avenue. Still another possibility would be to take property on McSween Avenue and Main Street. But any of the options would mean utilizing some of the current downtown parking, which already is limited. Architect Jay Henderlite said rehabilitation the current courthouse likely would be more expensive than building on a new site. But Carver argued that the current courthouse will need renovations "to make it look better." Commissioner Forest Clevenger said some people have suggested that a justice center and jail on Cope Boulevard would kill business downtown, but he suggested that would not happen. Clevenger suggested the Cope property, known as the Jack Farm, is the only alternative. A justice center is expected to cost about $30 million. The members were told that the cost for grading, sloping and infrastructure for a justice center and 280-300 bed jail, likely would cost about $3 million. Jail Administrator Josh Hartsell said the current jails average 140 to 200 total inmates, one-third of which are women. Asst. DA Tonya Thornton said the primary concern with the new jail should be safety issues. She argued that the current environment is not safe for court personnel or inmates. Thornton argued for a justice center which would keep the jail and court operations together. "We want a better security system in place from the get go," she said. The members agreed that if a jail and justice center are not built initially, the justice center will never be built because of the costs involved. There are plans to build a social services center on county owned property on Cope Boulevard, however that project may be moved or the justice center built around it. If the justice center goes on Jack Farm property, Carver said he believes there is state funding to extend Main Street for one mile west through the former Rhyne Lumber property to Cope Boulevard. Bob Bass, Detention Facilities Manager for the Tennessee Corrections Institute, told the committee he knows of no county that is building only a jail, and he argued that Cocke County needs a justice center. Bass commended the committee for the progress it is making. "This is exactly the steps that you need to take, so I am very proud of everybody in the room for doing this. This is the professional way of doing it. I would follow the same exact format that you did, weighing the pros and the cons, " Bass said. "We want you to decide where to build it, if you want me to talk about what I've experienced across the state, I'll be glad to share that with you, but it's ultimately your decision," said Bass. "

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