Acknowledging rebuffs from neighbors on all sides, Douglas County's jail advisory committee has asked county commissioners to explore alternatives to building the facility south of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
During a meeting Thursday, members of the committee conceded that the proposed facility may indeed be too large for the chosen site, particularly when parking needs are factored in.
Architect Tom Williams said the best effort to make it work hasn't appeased community opposition.
``This was 10 pounds of potatoes that we were trying to get into an eight-pound bag,'' Williams said. ``All along we've needed a bigger bag.''
``It's too much of a shoe-horning,'' said Lawrence City Commissioner Allen Levine.
County commissioners are likely to discuss how they'll set up a site search when they meet at 9 a.m. Monday in the Douglas County Courthouse, 11th and Massachusetts.
Although proximity to the courts was a reason for choosing the original site, Sheriff Loren Anderson said a remote location would work. Since the new jail will be equipped with a courtroom where inmates can be arraigned and make first appearances before a judge, transporting costs can be reduced.
``We can certainly work with it,'' he said.
The advisory committee had been considering two designs, both of which would build the jail south of the JLE Center on the edge of South Park. In recent weeks, opposition to the site has mounted, with users of the park, historic preservationists, members of Downtown Lawrence and residents of East Lawrence all weighing in with their concerns.
It's too early for opponents to start celebrating, however. At this point, the committee is recommending only that the designs for the original site be shelved while county officials see if alternative sites exist.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug noted that a jail probably will have neighbors no matter where it's built. Although some people have suggested building the jail outside the city limits, the facility will need municipal utilities.
``To expect that there's a site out there that isn't going to make somebody very, very angry is dreaming,'' he said.
A possible alternative site that emerged during the advisory committee's discussion was the East Hills Business Park, which is located east of Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10 and is hooked up to city water and sewer.
Weinaug said the county considered the park a few years ago when it was searching for sites for the Northeast Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Center but abandoned the idea because of protests from the economic development community. Having a correctional facility in the park might create an obstacle to attracting businesses to neighboring sites, Weinaug said.
``The opposition there was overwhelming as far as the county commission was concerned,'' he said.
Levine said the public investment in East Hills and in the local economic development effort should moderate opposition to building the jail in the park.
``The county and the city subsidized the hell out of the chamber of commerce and at some point civic duty has got to step in,'' he said.
Gary Toebben, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said his organization would be willing to help the county commission resolve the community's need for a jail site.
``It's also very difficult to find good industrial land,'' Toebben noted. If the jail were built in East Hills, ``That's land that would not be available for industry in the community. I hope we just don't trade one site selection search for another.''
- Should the East Hills Business Park be considered as a site for the new Douglas County Jail? Answer the J-W Access question on page 2A.