Wednesday, December 20, 2000

New jail to go downtown

10-story facility to be built next to Covington courthouse

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor


        INDEPENDENCE — Nearly two years of debate over where to put a new county jail ended Tuesday when Kenton County Fiscal Court unanimously approved putting it next to the courthouse in downtown Covington.

        “I'm very pleased we were able to come up with a solution that's not at the expense of the business community or a neighborhood,” Commissioner Barb Black said.

        Protests since 1999 had forced the county to back off two sites — along Ky. 17 in Covington and near New Buffington Road in Elsmere. Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd said the county has actually been haggling over a jail location in some form for about 10 years.

        “There is no perfect site,” Mr. Murgatroyd said. “There is no site that is free of inconvenience to someone.”

        The new jail will cost about $27.3 million. The courthouse was one of eight sites north of 20th Street being considered. The present jail is on the top floors of the courthouse, and that space will be renovated into office space.

        Mr. Murgatroyd said a two-story addition built in the 1980s on the Scott Boulevard side of the courthouse will be torn down for the new 10-story jail.

        On Dec. 1, consultant David Blodgett recommended the jail be built for 432 inmates, with expansion capability to 489 over 20 years. His finding is much smaller than earlier projections, which called for a facility large enough to house 739 prisoners by 2020.

        Not everybody is celebrating.

        A one-page statement released Tuesday by the Covington Business Council mentioned a survey of board members. Of the 64 percent of members responding, 59 percent opposed renovating the courthouse. Another 14 percent favored renovation, and 27 percent were undecided.

        Those numbers may be a bit deceiving. CBC Chairwoman Cindy Shirooni said that when the people who didn't respond are counted, the number opposing a jail is really about 34 percent.

        Opponents have said the courthouse site, at the foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge, could be better used as some other private development, possibly luxury condominiums.

        Ms. Shirooni said the county's approval a week after plans were introduced is too fast.

        “It is a little fast in that it doesn't give much opportunity for public discussion,” Ms. Shirooni said. “... On the other hand, they are way overdue to get (a new jail).”

        Craig Bohman, who will begin his term as a Covington city commissioner next month, liked the county's willingness to work with city leaders on jail design. But he's also seen two jail concepts fail.

        “We're being cautious,” Mr. Bohman said. “... We want to make certain development (in Covington) continues. We want to see details.”


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