Greene County Officials Say Steel Costs, City Skyline Among Factors In Relocating Jail

Dec 3, 2019

Bob Dixon is Greene County Presiding Commissioner.
Credit Courtesy of Greene County Commission Office

Greene County officials say they reached out to landowners and cemetery staff west of Springfield to alleviate concerns about a new jail going up in their neighborhood. 

County Commissioners filled in some more details Tuesday on plans to buy land and construct the eight story detention facility.

First, a timeline:     in November of 2017, Greene County voters approved a ½ cent sales tax to expand the jail facility.   For years, the jail has been bursting at the seams and the county has paid millions of dollars over the years to transport and house prisoners up to three hours away from Springfield.

In June of 2018, the county began demolishing buildings in the 900 block of Boonville to make way for the jail expansion there.

But County Commissioners say several things happened after that:   they learned that the proposed jail would be eight stories tall—and it wasn’t exactly ideal to have one of the most prominent buildings in central Springfield be the jail.

And Donna Barton, a spokeswoman for the county, said steel tariffs were also a factor in the cost of materials changing.

At the press conference Tuesday, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon told reporters it became apparent that a different material would be needed to keep the cost down—so the county decided to build a jail with pre-cast concrete cells.

And he defended the decision to keep the land details private until this week.

“There are few things that government can do in closed meetings, but land purchase and real estate agreements are not only allowed, but advised under State Statutes, Chapter 610,” he said.

Dixon told reporters that several factors went into deciding on a location:  amount of acreage needed, surroundings, utilities and roads, and mostly the cost.  

Total purchase price is just under $680,000 for 23 acres. KSMU has requested an estimate for the construction cost of the actual facility. 

Dixon said officials have not yet decided what to do with the current jail once it no longer houses prisoners, but it may be converted into office space.

County staff members met with the nearby White Chapel Cemetery officials to address their concerns, Dixon said.

And Whitney Burrell, a spokeswoman for Willard Public Schools—which is in the vicinity of the proposed jail—told KSMU that Greene County staff members had reached out to school officials, too.

Dixon acknowledged it will take a multi-pronged approach to address criminal justice problems causing the backlog in courts and overcrowding in the jail, and that several of those initatives are underway, including beefing up pre-trial services, adding a judge, and partnering with public defenders.

“If we can stem the flow but also deal with the immediate and ongoing needs as we look forward, that’s probably the best way to try to tackle all of it.  It’s not an easy fix,” Dixon said.

Formerly a state senator, Dixon served as chair of the Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee, helping to rewrite Missouri’s criminal code and seeking solutions for the state’s beleaguered public defender system.

The construction site for the new jail is located at Division street and Haseltine road, east of White Chapel Cemetery and south of the Springfield-Branson National Airport, according to a news release from the county.