Construction has begun on Warren County’s new $56.5 million jail and sheriff’s office.
The current 288-bed jail is often full, prompting delays in jail terms and alternative sentencing due to lack of cell space.
The 496-bed facility, to open in summer 2021, is expected to end more than a decade of debate and delay.
“This has been a big issue since before 2005,” Commissioner Dave Young said Tuesday. “We’ve literally done everything possible to avoid and defer building a new jail.”
The county plans to pay for the project with a 0.25 percent increase in sales tax for five years — expected to raise at least $50 million — and with funds set aside for the project. The county estimated $30 million in savings by financing the project over the five years, compared to traditional, long-term financing.
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A release issued after a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday indicated there was room for expansion to 1,000 beds.
Contractors have already relocated Justice Drive to make room for the new facilities and begun preliminary site work.
County officials and supporters gathered Tuesday on the construction site, in the center of the county government complex in Lebanon, for speeches and a line of officials turning shovels of dirt on the site in the county government complex in Lebanon.
The ceremony came a week after the commissioners split over $238,350 for 30 additional windows with sun screens blocking inmate views of the surrounding complex. Donovan Elementary School, the common pleas court and offices for the county prosecutor, board of election and other services will be neighbors to the new jail.
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Trees will obscure some views of the school and playgrounds.
A stretch of the Lebanon Countryside YMCA Trail also runs nearby and could be seen from windows in the new jail.
“It sends kind of a weird vibe,” Sims said in response to questions from the commissioners. “They’ll stay glued to this window.”
County Administrator Tiffany Zindel said the additional windows would please County Prosecutor David Fornshell whose parking lot could be visible for the inmates.
Many inmates are waiting to make bond or otherwise get out while awaiting resolution of their case. Others serve sentences in the jail.
Commissioners Tom Grossmann and Shannon Jones disagreed on the need for the additional sun-screen windows.
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“You want to give them a place they have hope,” Grossmann said.
Jones said it was important for the community to be comfortable with the jail.
The new jail is a short walk closer to the school than the existing jail-sheriff’s office, much of which is to be kept for use by the county courts, and possibly for minimum-security prisoners and other services.
“$238,000 might go a long way to being a good neighbor,” Jones said.
On Tuesday, Young said he remained unsure what should be done about the windows.
“Clearly we want to screen some of the inmate areas,” said Young. “However I’m not necessarily opposed to having sunlight coming into parts of the jail.”
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