Members of the Cocke County Corrections Partnership discussed two possible locations for a jail or justice center; adjacent to the current courthouse or on county owned property on Cope Boulevard.
Committee chair, 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 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 p.m., Tuesday, 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 with a current appraised value of $297,100, and removal of the buildings likely would cost an additional $200,000.
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.
Any of the options would mean utilizing some of the current downtown parking, which already is limited.
Architect Jay Henderlite said rehabilitating the current courthouse likely would be more expensive than building on a new site. But Carver argued the current courthouse will need renovations “to make it look better.”
Commissioner Forest Clevenger said some people have suggested 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 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.
Assistant District Attorney Tonya Thornton said the primary concern with the new jail should be safety issues. She said the current environment is not safe for court personnel or inmates. Thornton outlined points 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 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.