Citing opposition by the Terre Haute City Council, Vigo County Commissioners on Wednesday announced they are withdrawing a rezoning petition that would have allowed construction of a new county jail and sheriff’s office on the city’s southwest side.
The action means a jail will not be built along Prairieton Road across from the Vigo County School Corp. Aquatic Center on a 64-acre tract where Wabash Valley Riverscape envisions recreational facilities.
Riverscape leaders and others in the community had spoken out against the site since commissioners selected the county-owned property as their choice for a new jail Feb. 14.
“We ... still believe the International Paper property is the best site for the new security complex,” Commissioners Jon Marvel, Judy Anderson and Brad Anderson said in a four-page statement announcing their decision.
“However, the political reality of the situation is clear and a majority of the City Council does not share that same belief,” they wrote.
The commissioners were clear they were stepping away from that property: “This means a new Vigo County Security Complex will not be located on the International Paper site,” they wrote.
Several opponents of the site expressed concern about its proximity to the Aquatic Center, but commissioners noted other jails in Indiana are located adjacent to high schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, state parks and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers.
Still, given the perceived “opportunity cost” associated with the Prairieton Road site, commissioners said they decided to withdraw their request.
“That’s good news for Riverscape -- we think,” said Charlie Williams, president of the organization. “We appreciate their restarting the search. We never thought that was a good place for the jail and still don’t, so we applaud their review of the situation and we will continue to try to help find a better location.”
Commissioners did not indicate where the jail and sheriff’s office might now be built, but they ruled out the current location adjacent to the county courthouse and city hall saying it lacks sufficient space and noting the county does not own the property that would be needed to built a facility there.
They said other locations with minimal acreage would also be “impractical and expensive.”
Land at 13th and Hulman Streets is not suitable because much of it remains contaminated from of a coke and carbon plant that stood on the tract for decades, commissioners said.
“We have endeavored to be transparent about reasons to consider some locations and not others, but our efforts have not been successful,” commissioners said. “As stewards of taxpayer money, we are obliged to consider all factors, not only personal preferences or uninformed recommendations.”
Mayor Duke Bennett said Wednesday he had no problem with the Prairieton Road site and he opposes construction of a new jail outside city limits because of the added transportation costs for police.
The county owns the Prairieton Road site and commissioners said moving away from the location “will cost more money in the long term.”
Commissioners said they will continue to manage the former International Paper property and “listen attentively as proposals are made for its acquisition and use.”
Two pending lawsuits over conditions at the current jail, built in 1981 and expanded about 15 years ago, compel them to move forward on a new jail, according to commissioners who said attorneys representing inmates are “showing increasing impatience at our failure to make progress.”