MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 14, 2013

County seeks spot to relocate youth detention facility

City gives commissioners list of possible properties

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Commissioners are looking at city-owned properties that might be suitable as relocation sites for the Muskogee County Juvenile Detention Facility.

Mayor Bob Coburn presented a list of properties that consist of one or more acres for commissioners’ consideration. The list, he said, was provided as starting point from which commissioners could start exploring options.

“We’re not proposing any one certain site — just some possibilities,” Coburn said. “We wanted to make that list available to get you all ready to explore that.”

The juvenile detention facility is located in the 600 block of West Shawnee Bypass, which is “within the heart” of an area targeted for commercial development. Officials say there is a lot of interest in the tract, but the detention center stands in the way of progress.

City and county officials formed a committee in June 2012 to explore their options, and discussions continued for almost two months. The following month, county commissioners were told a search of land records found no legal impediments that would prevent the sale of the land for commercial development.

The biggest drawback is the need for the county to sell the present site at a price sufficient to pay for the construction of a replacement facility at a new site. An architect told commissioners in August it could cost about $2.25 million to replace the 10-bed facility and predicted that could climb with the passage of time.

A map provided by city officials shows the properties presented for consideration include:

• Four tracts of land immediately west of Hatbox Field;

• One parcel located between South Fourth and Fifth streets and south of Elgin Street;

• The land where Muskogee Little Theater is located, 325 E. Cincinnati Ave.;

• A tract located south of Kalamazoo Avenue where South Third Street dead ends at Coody Creek;

• And a parcel located along Elliot Street between Anthony Street and David Lane.

Interim City Attorney Roy Tucker said the map was prepared as a tool to identify certain parcels either owned by the city or likely could acquire. If commissioners are interested in any of those tracts, Tucker said city officials would work with them to identify any problems that might exist with regard to surrounding areas, zoning issues and infrastructure.

“A plan for relocation of the detention center is a necessary element in the urban renewal plan that needs to be addressed,” Tucker said, noting a consensus among all parties that the present site of the detention facility is more valuable for economic development and would benefit both the city and county. “We don’t want to move this faster than it needs to be nor slower than it has to be, but we do have an interest in moving forward to get a solidified for relocation of the detention center.”

Commissioners said they would look at the properties to assess the viability of those locations but remained uncommitted. Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson, however, said his first priority would be to expand the existing jail to include an area designated for juveniles.

“We have several options we are looking at, but I would like to add two floors to the county jail,” Pearson said. “We can have an area that separates them (juveniles) from the adult population and add more beds so we don’t have to spend all that money transporting kids across the state.”

The 10-bed juvenile detention facility was built in the 1980s by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and then deeded to the county. The county is reimbursed by the state for those beds, but the money is used to pay a third party to oversee the facility’s day-to-day operations.

Commissioners were told more than a year ago the state would not reimburse the county for additional beds if they were available. But the additional costs of accommodating more juveniles could be offset by the savings that could be realized by reducing prisoner transports.

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