Mynatt jumps in on jail

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Kannapolis Citizen

CONCORD — Cabarrus County Commissioner Grace Mynatt suggested Monday night that the county consider moving one component of the new sheriff’s office/jail — a 480-bed resident tower — to an industrial section away from the downtown.

Mynatt, sworn in as a new commissioner only a short time earlier, said county officials and the community at large should explore all options for the $100 million project, especially now that construction is being delayed because of a court appeal.

Mynatt supported the formation of a committee and encouraged commissioners to re-examine the pros, cons and costs of all options.

“You can’t make these decisions on half information,” she said.

The county wants to build a a new administrative office for the sheriff, a 96-bed annex and a 480-bed, six-story jail tower in the downtown. Since this spring, the project’s costs have increased from $75 million to $101 million.

A residents’ suit, brought in May, contested the city’s approval of a conditional-use permit that allowed construction to start on the annex and preliminary work to prepare the rest of the site.

When a Superior Court judge ruled in the city’s favor in September, the residents’ group appealed.

Commissioner Coy Privette agreed with Mynatt’s proposal for a committee, noting the estimated six to 18 months it could take for the N.C. Court of Appeals to act on the plaintiffs’ case against Concord.

In the end Monday night, commissioners decided that Mynatt and Vice Chairman Joni Juba should discuss a committee’s possible makeup and report back to the board.

Mynatt originally proposed a committee made up of Sheriff Brad Riley, and a member from the commissioners (Juba), Concord City Council, the plaintiffs’ group, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Commission and downtown preservation groups.

But other commissioners asked whether representatives from the plaintiffs and the city could serve on the committee together because of the pending court case.

Juba, Chairman Bob Carruth and newly elected Commissioner Jay White showed some reservations about looking at the long-discussed sheriff’s/jail project again.

Juba said she’s weary from all the previous committees and meetings.

“I’m tired, and I need to think about it,” she said after Mynatt proposed that she serve on a new committee.

Carruth said the jail project came down to a fundamental decision as to where government buildings should be — in the downtown or somewhere else in the county.

Is Concord supposed to be a “mixed village,” as Mynatt might have suggested, or should it be the seat for county government and its buildings?

Carruth said he thought commissioners and the community answered that question as far back as 2002-2003.

The jail needs to be close to the courthouse to limit the distance prisoners travel for their hearings and trials, Carruth said. He also noted that nothing negative about the current plans was raised until the residents raised concerns in late 2005.

Carruth said he would hate to go through the whole city approval process again for placing a jail on an industrial site and essentially face starting over.

He said that the frustration level about the whole project is “at an all-time high.” He also noted that the county already has spent close to $8 million on the plans and early construction.

“It has been a brutal process,” Carruth said.

White asked what it would cost the county per month not to build anything. Considering it’s a $100 million project, Scott Pyle said, delays may cost $800,000 to $1 million a month.

Pyle, a senior estimator for Turner Construction, based his figures on an estimated 10 percent increase in construction costs during an extended delay.

Privette noted predictions in November of construction cost increases of 15 to 20 percent over a six- to 12-month period.

Privette said his own research showed that construction costs in 2006 increased by only 3.2 percent.

Mynatt said Concord residents who would be neighbors to the project had no idea until late 2005 of the enormity of the buildings, based on what they were shown and told at previous meetings.

Even if the residential tower moved, she added, the county is not losing the value of all of its plans.

Mynatt, who had been a member of the Cabarrus County Board of Education, said she avoided weighing in on the jail issue until now because she was hoping it would be decided by the time she was sworn in.

She said she didn’t want to embroil the school board in the controversy.

Mynatt also acknowledged that she has a daughter who lives in the neighborhood next to the proposed jail tower. That daughter will view the tower from the master bedroom of her home if the project is built as proposed, Mynatt said.

“No one wants a jail outside their windows,” she said.

As one option, Mynatt proposed that the county continue with the administrative building and annex but move the residential tower to an industrial site, freeing up 6 acres that could be used for commercial and residential development.

Such a mixed development also would provide tax-paying properties and revitalize a downtown area, she said.

Mynatt, Privette and White were sworn in to four-year terms Monday night after their election victories in November. Privette already had been on the board.

White and Mynatt replace Carolyn Carpenter and Robert Freeman.

The new board re-elected Carruth and Juba as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or