MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 2, 2014

Officials eye Davis Field site for juvenile detention

Site one of two deemed suitable for move

Officials plan to assess an area near Davis Field they believe might prove to be a suitable site for a new juvenile detention facility.

Ron Dean, an appraiser with the Muskogee County Assessor’s Office, said the area was one of two that appeared to meet criteria set out by members of an ad hoc committee formed to assess site options.

Committee members say the site needs to be easily accessible to law enforcement agencies that transport inmates to and from the detention center. In addition to accessibility, they say any new site also must be outside residential areas and away from schools, parks and other sensitive areas.

The Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center is located within an area targeted by city officials for urban renewal and retail development. A consensus exists regarding the need to move the facility, but county officials say relocation is impossible without the estimated $2 million or more needed to replace the 10-bed facility.

City Attorney Roy Tucker recently told urban renewal commissioners the land upon which the detention center was built likely is worth less than what is needed to build a replacement facility. In light of that fact, committee members have been looking for city- or county-owned land to defray costs.

The regional detention facility was built in the 1980s by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services on county-owned property, and operations are funded by the Oklahoma Juvenile Authority. The county would be responsible for the costs of acquiring property and constructing a replacement facility, so committee members have been trying to locate city- or county-owned land suitable for the facility.

Dean said a search of county land records turned up more than 1,000 parcels of suitable size. Tracts within developed and other residential areas were filtered out along with those where future development appears likely. That left only Davis Field and the old fairgrounds as areas suitable for a new juvenile detention facility.

“The not-in-my-backyard syndrome took most of those out of the equation,” Dean said about properties located in or near neighborhoods, subdivisions and other platted areas within the county. “When I did that there were some that looked suitable ... but then we had to make sure we wouldn’t be in the same situation we’re in now 15 years from now.”

There was some interest in the former fairgrounds area, which Tucker said the city is developing as a “government facilities area.” The city opened a central garage and vehicle maintenance facility there and has plans to build a multi-agency fire and police training facility at the location.

Security concerns, however, steered interest among committee members toward an area at Davis Field. An assessment of available infrastructure at that location is expected to be completed during the next few weeks.

District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace said another factor that must be considered is the prospect of state budget cuts. A letter circulated by OJA Director T. Keith Wilson warns about potential facility and program cuts the agency faces in light of Gov. Mary Fallin’s budget proposals.

Wallace said other problems associated with relocation could arise if state lawmakers fail to fully fund the regional juvenile detention centers and other programs. Any funding cuts, Wallace said, would “have a major negative effect” on facility operations and relocation options.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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