Isle of Wight requested correctional center

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Despite protestations by some Windsor Town Council members that they did not know about the project, Isle of Wight County officials notified the town of the proposed juvenile correctional center on at least two occasions prior to a July 11 intergovernmental meeting, according to a timeline provided by County Administrator Randy Keaton.

It was also revealed Friday that Isle of Wight County had initiated discussions with the state about putting the juvenile correctional center here. 

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According to Keaton’s timeline, Windsor Mayor Rita Richardson, Vice Mayor Durwood Scott and Town Manager Michael Stallings were briefed Dec. 29; and on Jan. 24, the county forwarded “talking points” that reached the Windsor Town Council, and did the same again on Jan. 26. The Windsor Town Council discussed the project in closed session on Feb. 13, which was followed by a front page story Feb. 21 in The Smithfield Times on the proposed juvenile detention center. 

Richardson also signed a letter in April to Delegate Emily Brewer supporting funding for a 60-bed juvenile detention center in Isle of Wight County. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Keaton said the county then awaited word on state funding, which was received on June 1, followed by Gov. Ralph Northam signing the state budget on June 7.

At a meeting Friday with the Department of Juvenile Justice, that had inadvertently become public due to the high level of interest by Windsor residents, Richardson said what was initially positive about the project may, in her opinion, no longer be the case — and took issue with the idea of building the facility off Buckhorn Drive due to the width and curves in that road.

“It’s a lot of negatives we’re looking at,” she said. 

Richardson said she now believes a better location for the juvenile facility would be off Route 10 in the northern end of Isle of Wight County. 

Richardson received applause for that suggestion. 

Positives listed for the facility included the addition of 240 jobs and the economic development those could provide for the town. 

Richardson cited some studies about the effects of prisons on small towns and land values, and said her April support letter was based on information at the time. 

“It wasn’t to support this whole thing, but to support funding,” she said. 

Isle of Wight County initially approached the Department of Juvenile Justice after the Chesapeake project fell through, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson in a phone interview Monday.

Chesapeake was poised to build the new juvenile center along with a city facility, but the project didn’t earn enough votes from the City Council late last year. 

However, the county does not own land in the northern end of Isle of Wight and needed to offer property suitable for the project, such as being wooded and at least 20 acres, said Robertson. 

The industrial park off Route 10 outside Smithfield is privately owned, while Isle of Wight owns most of the land in the intermodal park that is located in and near the town of Windsor, he said. 

The portion of the intermodal park being eyed for the facility is in phase 3, which has 985 acres. 

In all, the county is offering $500,000 for water and sewer and the land is valued at $700,000, for a total contribution of $1.2 million. 

Keaton said Friday that one reason the project wasn’t discussed publicly earlier is that funding was an unknown until early June, and the county didn’t want to present partial information. 

Because the model for the facility was new, there wasn’t another in Virginia that Isle of Wight could use as an example, he said. 

The new juvenile facility is smaller and will apply a holistic approach to teens, ages 14-20, in the areas of academics, vocational training, athletics, counseling, and will be the first of its kind in Virginia.  

Keaton said the county plans to host some informational sessions for residents interested in learning more about the project. 

Keaton said that the project has not so far required a public hearing because the Isle of Wight Economic Development Authority owns the property.

The state budget authorizes the construction of the juvenile correctional center and the state is not subject to local zoning, said Keaton at Friday’s meeting. 

Several members of the EDA were at the Friday meeting. 

EDA member Tom Alphin said that it looks like the “train has already left the station.”

Department of Juvenile Justice Director Andrew Block, who was on hand to provide information about the department and the project, replied, “I certainly hope the train has left the station.”  {/mprestriction}