Friday, February 05, 2010

TOP STORY >> Lockup shovel-ready

Leader staff writer

County officials ceremonially turned the first shovels of dirt for a new $6 million, 134-bed Lonoke County Detention Center on Wednesday.

The morning was chilly but the ground was sufficiently thawed for the warmly received reception for the long-overdue lockup, located at the end of Dee Dee Lane in the Lonoke Industrial Park behind McDonald’s restaurant.

Sheriff Jim Roberson thanked county residents during the ceremony. He said they are the ones whose tax dollars made it possible. He said the center would be a major improvement for the county.

Lonoke County residents, notoriously resistant to tax increases, nonetheless approved a one-year penny sales tax dedicated to jail construction.

“This is a great day for Lonoke County,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman.

Community leaders and elected officials from Cabot, Austin, Lonoke, Ward, England, Carlisle and Lonoke County gathered at the new site.

The jail, which should be completed early next year, will include sheriff’s offices and a courtroom for plea and arraignment.

Troutman said on the west end will be a new county road shop.

The county traded the city half a block in downtown Lonoke, which included the shop, for the land in the industrial park.

After the groundbreaking ceremony, Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis said, “We’ve needed it a long time. It won’t be long before it is full.”

“We are looking forward to it and continuing to work with the county. We will be able to lock up the offenders who need to be locked up,” Austin Police Chief John Staley said.

Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore said, “I’m glad we are going to have a jail that will accommodate the offenders and those who fail to pay their child support.

“Safety-wise, I’m glad there is a courtroom for first appearances. It makes it safer for all the citizens, because you don’t have the risk of escape,” Elmore said.

She said there will be more security for judges with sheriff’s deputies there. Elmore said they had people in court (who wanted) to flee the courtroom in the last four months.

“I’m proud to be a JP today to be a part of this,” Justice of the Peace Robert Moery said. “When I initially got elected they were talking about closing the jail because of the conditions.”

Justice of the Peace Alexis Malham said, “It is needed in Lonoke County, and I’m glad the taxpayers voted for the one-cent sunset sales tax.”

Among those in attendance who did not break ground with a shovel were Ward Police Chief Charlie Martin, Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain, England Police Chief Herman Hutton, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and former Judge Carol Bevis.

Later in the day, the first construction meeting of the detention center was held at the CSEPP building conference room in Lonoke.