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Update on Juvenile Detention Facility

Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 at 7:55 am


At last Tuesday’s Courthouse and Property Meeting, Jeff Sweeney provided updated information on the new Bedford County Juvenile Detention Center.

He said the state had two options for designs. One was what Sweeney referred to as the “club med” facility, which would include long-term care benefits and accessories.

“We chose to do the B plan, which is more of a lock-up facility because we are not keeping kids long-term,” said Sweeney.

Discussions started over three years ago to either build a new facility or transport juveniles out of the county to surrounding facilities.

“We already studied this. If we send them out, the cost was going to be greater than building a facility. And I didn’t think it would be that way,” said committee chairwoman and Commissioner Julie Sanders.

After months of studying the issue in work groups, Sanders said they concluded transporting juveniles out of the county would require the same amount of staff, more cost for transportation, and medical expenses for doctor visits.

Sweeney said, “We’ve got to do it in some capacity because there’s not that many facilities that will take them. Cookeville is probably the closest one. If they’re full, then we’ve got to take them to Chattanooga or Memphis.”

And transporting juveniles isn’t easy, according to Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham.

“When an officer arrests a juvenile, they’re responsible for that juvenile until they place them somewhere,” he said during the meeting. “So he could spend the next eight hours of his whole shift trying to figure out where to put that kid if they don’t take them somewhere.”

This is especially crucial as Bedford County continues to grow in population. Sweeney said in a meeting he had earlier with school board members, some 2,200 lots have been approved for houses.

“We’re going to have to deal with some of that growth from this standpoint,” he said.

With the 2024 fiscal year budget, the Bedford County Board of Commissioners voted to build a $5 million facility next to the current Bedford County Judicial Complex, located on Northcreek Drive off U.S. 231.

Since the facility will be located at the next lot beside the jail complex, sewer and water lines already run through the back of the lots, which the county owns.

Sweeney said if they were to install those utilities today, it would be “astronomical” in price.

Sweeny said their goal is to have construction drawings by May and have construction start in late July then completion by next May in 2025.

Preliminary drawings started out with the facility at 10,000 square feet. “We probably had three years of meetings with Commissioner [Linda] Yockey, Judge [Charles] Rich, Kellee Smith, and Julie [Sanders].”

They have also been meeting will Bell’s Construction and Kline-Swinney Associates, the county’s architect. Now, they have reduced the building down to 8,800 square feet.

With this, they will be able to take up to 18 kids.

To reduce the size, they have taken the full kitchen out and gone to a ‘day kitchen.’ “But also putting in plumbing for future if we decide to go with a kitchen,” said Sweeney.

A large portion of the facility will include an outside area as well as be an expansion area. “We are trying to construct all buildings to have easy future expansion,” Sweeney explained.

“We’ve taken so much out of it to get to where it will take care of Bedford County for the next 10 to 15 years, but also we’re not trying to win an award for beauty contest.”

Graham added that if Bedford wasn’t already in the “business of housing juveniles,” he doesn’t think it would be the best decision to build a new facility.

“If we didn’t already have all the infrastructure in place to hold kids, I don’t know if I would be as confident this is the best decision.

“Unfortunately, the government that is where we wind up is doing the things other people won’t do. If I was profitable, the private sector would do it,” said Graham.

“Bedford is growing. We’re not shrinking. It’s going to be a bigger problem next year than it is this year.”