ROCKINGHAM — While Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark may have decided the Old Chemco building was a no-go for a proposed justice center, he isn't giving up on the project. On Thursday afternoon he submitted a zoning application at an empty site.
Clark submitted a zoning application on March 3 at 3:30 p.m. to site the justice center project on Rockingham Street. The 11.5-acre site is located near Exit 6 on Route 5 and Clark says he is planning to close on the purchase on April 15. It was a $300,000 anonymous donation that made it possible for Clark to write a check out to George W. Nostrand, the property owner and successor trustee of the Lawrence Kasser Children's Trust.
"We probably began looking at it six months ago," Clark said about the latest site. "The Liberty Mill was my first choice because we thought we could renovate it, but the engineering study came back and essentially said that was not necessarily true."
The facility Clark has proposed to build is a $22 to $23 million criminal detainee/resource facility. The space would hold 155 beds — 120 secured for either federal or state male detainees, 20 for female detainees at either the state or federal level and 35 for those that are transitioning out or that are eligible for the electronic monitoring program. Clark has said the building would be "building secure" rather than "site secure," which means no barbed fencing, guard tower, floodlights or large open spaces surrounding the building. Instead, security would be held within all or a portion of the building.
According to the zoning application for this new site, Clark would like to construct a 60,000-square-foot "multi-use facility." The construction costs on the zoning application are estimated at $18,000. The site is zoned for commercial/industrial and it is on commercial water and sewer. Clark said the facility would strictly be owned and run by Windham County Sherrif's Office.
"The location is away from schools, has immediate access to Route 5, it takes into account traffic and there's no nearby housing," he said.
Clark has also mentioned that the site was chosen as result of not being able to build at the Liberty Mill Location. In a press release Clark stated, "this property also takes into account public input in regard to concerns about siting the center in Bellows Falls."
Recently at Town Meeting, registered voters voted "no" on Article 2 which stated, "Shall the voters of the town of Rockingham allow placement of a detention center within the legal boundaries of Bellows Falls?" This was a non-binding vote and would be moved to Australian vote.
Residents have formed several opposition groups to Clark's proposal of moving such a facility into town. Two groups noted are Rockingham For Progress and Voices of Rockingham.
In mid-February, RFP sent a petition to the Planning Commission requesting that the definition of a municipality be changed. The group's suggests that the definition exclude, "any facility in which more than eighteen (18) people are incarcerated or held for short-term psychological evaluation at any time or in which any person or persons are incarcerated for seven (7) or more consecutive days or held for short-term psychological evaluation for thirty (30) or more consecutive days."
Despite opposition to such a facility, Clark is moving forward and says this is the first step of many, including environmental studies and the need for a financial package.
"I took into consideration what the public was telling me, not that I agree with their concerns, but I took them into account,"said Clark.
All questions should be addressed to Sheriff Clark at 802-365-4942.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275.