By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Plans to relocate and possibly expand the Muskogee County Juvenile Detention Facility appear to be no closer to becoming a reality than they were at this time a year ago.
The county-owned facility is located 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 in the 600 block of West Shawnee Bypass 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.
Commissioners say the biggest drawback is the need to recoup the costs of building a replacement facility at a new site. The 10-bed facility was built in the 1980s by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and then deeded to the county, which contracts with a third party to provide day-to-day operations.
When city and county officials met Monday to revisit the issue, the only new information that surfaced was a rough estimate of what it might cost to replace the existing facility. That could help move the project forward, but what really is needed is the money it would take to build the facility and the site for its new location.
Kim Reeve, an architect and president of BKL Inc., estimated it could cost up to $2.25 million to replace the 10-bed facility. Reeve said much of that cost is due to new specifications set by the Office of Juvenile Affairs for detention facilities.
“We looked at today’s costs,” said Reeve, whose Tulsa-based firm has extensive experience designing correctional facilities. “If you don’t do it for a year, it’s going to cost more.”
Mayor Bob Coburn said several people have expressed interest in the property where the detention facility is located, which is within an area targeted for urban renewal. He expressed some urgency about moving forward.
“We have been contacted by developers, by a restaurant and by Realtors,” Coburn said. “We are kind of going from redefining the use of that property to now having a real interest in that property. Do we have any idea of the time it will take to do something with it?”
District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace said everybody appears to be “on the same page” when it comes to future development at that site. But getting to a point where that can begin will take money the county doesn’t have.
“If your foundation would be an active participant, we can find a suitable location,” Wallace said about the City of Muskogee Foundation. “We don’t want to be dealing with developers.”
The foundation loaned $1.1 million to the Muskogee Redevelopment Authority to acquire county-owned property at the southwest corner of the U.S. 69 and Shawnee Bypass intersection. The city is trying to sell that property to QuikTrip for future development.
Coburn indicated a deal similar to the city’s acquisition of the QuikTrip property may be a possibility.
Interim City Manager Roy Tucker set out some steps Monday that might lead that direction. Tucker suggested that he and Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore investigate any title issues. The city would then explore funding options for relocating the juvenile detention center and anything else that might be required to accomplish that goal.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.