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New county jail site needs more consideration

Two weeks ago, Citrus County commissioners voted to build the new county jail just north of the Sheriff's Administration Building in downtown Inverness. Within a day, all five Inverness City Council members had expressed reservations and opposition to the plan _ an important consideration, since the city must change its comprehensive land use plan, zoning, building height restrictions and other policies in order for the jail to be built downtown. In addition, several residents whose homes would be demolished to make way for the jail said they don't want to move.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Inverness council will discuss the county jail proposal at a workshop meeting to which the public is invited.

Advocates and opponents of a downtown jail are expected to attend.

Those who favor the site say the jail will bring business to a downtown that sorely needs it. They say it will increase the value of property in the downtown area. Commissioner Skip Hudson, who favors the site, suggested at the Feb. 6 commission meeting that Inverness could become a judicial complex "when the County Commission moves out to Lecanto."

Sheriff Charles Dean, who also favors the downtown site, says he wants the jail near his administrative offices. He also says a downtown jail will be handier to courtrooms than one away from the town center.

Dean says he would like to see the present 77-bed jail utilized in some way and has proposed building a $400,000 walkover to connect the new and old jails so one kitchen can serve both facilities.

Those who oppose the jail site say it will destroy the beauty of downtown Inverness and, when the trees are stripped from the site, ruin the appearance of Cooter Pond. They say a jail generates little business, and, since courtrooms will remain inside the city, those having business with the courts will still be drawn to town. In fact, they say, a downtown jail could squeeze out other county offices.

Jail designers say a multistory jail, which a downtown site will require, costs at least 10 to 15 percent more to build than a one- or two-story jail on a larger parcel of land. That would add at least $860,000 to construction costs. They also point out there will be little room for outdoor recreational activities for prisoners.

In addition, jail experts say attaining security in a multi-story jail is more expensive and more difficult than in one- or two-story facilities.

Architects also say there is no room to expand jail facilities in the future at the downtown site. That would force the county either to purchase additional property and destroy more homes, or, as suggested by Commissioner Hudson, build a costly duplicate jail on the west side of the county.

Opponents also point out that 250 parking spaces would be eliminated if the jail were built in the present parking lot and a need would be created for at least 200 more spaces for jail personnel and visitors. That would force the county either to buy more than seven acres for a 450-space parking lot or build a parking garage for county employees at a minimum cost of $2.6-million, in addition to land and drainage costs.

Of most concern to some downtown opponents is that the homes of at least a dozen longtime residents will have to be destroyed. The homes and churches remaining would be mere yards from the razor-wire fence surrounding the jail. Most of the residents interviewed in that area say they don't want to move.

The Times is interested to know how readers feel about a downtown jail site. We are printing a coupon and soliciting opinions. We ask that coupons be returned by mail or in person to the Times by Friday. We will tabulate results and report them in the newspaper next week.

What are your thoughts on a new jail downtown?

The Citrus County Commission is moving ahead in its plans to build a multistory county jail next to the existing jail in downtown Inverness. The Times would like to know your opinion regarding the location. Please check one box below:

( ) Yes, build the jail in downtown Inverness.

( ) No, do not build the jail downtown.

If you checked No, please suggest an alternative site:

Additional comments (feel free to attach a letter):

Name:

Address (not for publication):

Telephone (not for publication):

Mail your response to Barbara Fredricksen, the St. Petersburg Times, 3822 E Gulf to Lake Highway, Inverness 32650. You also may bring your response to either our Inverness or Crystal River offices during business hours.

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