Windham County Sheriff's Office 'not pursuing' Liberty Mill building for justice center

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BELLOWS FALLS — Siting of a proposed justice center in the Liberty Mill building in Bellows Fall was called off after an announcement was made Monday afternoon.

"The building was older than we originally thought it to be," Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark told the Reformer. "It would need more work. The engineering study pointed out a lot of things."

At first, Clark said, the site looked like "a very viable option" but he knew there would be some potential work involved. Now it appears as though the only way forward would require tearing down the building and constructing a new facility. The former Chemco building would need additional bracing and supports put in.

"It would take a lot of money," said Clark. "At some point, someone will have to decide what to do with it."

There are other sites in the county he has in mind.

The National Institute of Corrections will be sending a team to assess sites and provide technical support associated with the project.

"They're truly the experts around facilities and programs like this," said Clark, referring to the justice center which previously was planned to be used as a place to hold criminal detainees and provide resources.

The multi-million-dollar project in Bellows Falls was proposed to house 120 beds for federal or state male detainees, 20 beds for female detainees and 35 beds for people who are transitioning out or are eligible for the electronic monitoring program.

Voters in Rockingham were expecting to weigh in on the project on Tuesday at annual Town Meeting where an article was dedicated to the topic.

"The Windham County Sheriff's Office will not be pursuing placing the proposed Windham County Justice Center in the building formerly known as the Chemco Building or Liberty Mill in Bellows Falls," a press release issued Monday stated. "The decision to not move forward with the location was based on various factors to include the recent engineering study."

The community's reaction only had a little to do with the decision to back away from the property, Clark said, and he does not look at it as a setback to the project. No timeline has been established for getting the center up and running.

"I had just as much support, in fact, I think I had more support than people against it," Clark said. "Most of their concerns were not insurmountable. Some of their concerns were of no bother to me. I'm not trying to force it down anyone's throat as someone described it."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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