published Monday, March 4th, 2013

Two groups speak out against jail proposed for downtown Dayton

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    Rhea County Jail inmates are escorted into the county courthouse from the jail across the parking lot. Security surrounding moving the inmates concerns county officials planning for a new jail.
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DAYTON, Tenn. — Two Rhea County groups have appealed to county commissioners about the possible appearance of an expanded jail next to the courthouse downtown.

"We would not support or desire to see a huge metal building ... located in our downtown area adjacent to our historic courthouse," said Randy Wells, chairman of MainStreet Dayton, in a detailed letter addressed to the county commissioners, County Executive George Thacker and Sheriff Mike Neal.

Two weeks ago, county commissioners ordered a sketch of the jail to better understand its viability for expansion on property next to its current site off Second Avenue.

Architect David Brown of KBJM Architects Inc. in Mount Juliet, Tenn., had told commissioners he would have a preliminary sketch for a 200-bed facility for them by March 19.

Wells' letter to commissioners addressed the potential need for fencing or wiring "at a sizable height" at the jail, a feature he indicated would clash with the design of the historic courthouse.

The courthouse's future as a downtown attraction has raised concerns from another group.

"Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society members believe that the Rhea County Courthouse is the primary feature for which the county is known worldwide, and that the county government has an obligation to maintain the building in perpetuity," society Chairman Tom Davis said in a written appeal to commissioners.

Davis also is a correspondent for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Historical society members have discussed expanding the courthouse museum up to the first floor or moving it there in its entirety. The Heritage Trial and Scopes Museum is in the basement of the courthouse, and workers are adding Civil War and early 1900s memorabilia to its collection.

Neal repeatedly has urged commissioners to consider moving jail operations away from the historic courthouse.

"You can't carry 25 inmates across the street [from the jail] to court" and not have them segregated from the public," he said. "If you want 100 percent security, we'll have to hire four or five officers and buy new metal detectors."

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