published Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Rhea jail panel eyes locations

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DAYTON, Tenn. — The Rhea County Jail Committee is working to narrow down the list of sites for a new justice center in case the county chooses not to expand at its current location.

Vance Travis, president of Chattanooga-based TWH Architects Inc., gave each member a scorecard at June’s meeting and asked them to “finalize and hone the best site for Rhea County” using a 10-point checklist he’d created.

In May, the committee selected six sites that range in cost from $350,000 to $650,000. Four sites are on the north end of the city and two on the south end.

A seventh property, near Vanderwall Funeral Home and the Dayton City School, was offered to the county at no charge. Officials and residents have expressed concern that the site is close to the school and parks, but it hasn’t been eliminated from consideration.

Travis told committee members that “everybody’s got a different opinion” about which sites are appropriate and said the criteria would help them to narrow the list.

Members are to score the criteria from one to five based on importance. They include the sites’ nearness to U.S. Highway 27, downtown Dayton and to the hospital, along with their state of development and property cost.

If the county chose to expand the downtown jail, property along the block would have to be purchased and temporary housing for inmates arranged during construction.

District Attorney General Mike Taylor said the county would need to build a 26-foot wall or barbed-wire fence if additional floors were added to the 1960s-era jail.

“I don’t know that I want [visitors seeing] that” when they tour the historic Rhea County Courthouse, Taylor said.

Earlier this month, the county jail was decertified by the Tennessee Corrections Institute for excessive overcrowding, and officials were told to continue planning for a jail expansion or construction of a justice center.

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