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By Traci Chapman
As snow slowed one aspect of the Canadian County Jail’s addition progress, work moved forward in another area.
On Wednesday, workers from all three commissioners districts teamed up to tear down two houses purchased by the county across the street from the jail addition. Located along Evans Avenue, near West Penn Street, the houses were being torn down to make way for parking, not just for the jail, but also as an overflow lot for other county offices, District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said.
“This will be helpful for the jail and for visitors and others, but it’s also really needed for the courthouse – both the legal annex part and where our other offices are located,” Stewart said.
County officials have been meeting with El Reno city officials to explore the possibility of closing a portion of Penn Street near Evans, which would allow parking to spread completely across that expanse without a break, Stewart said. Although nothing has been set in stone with the city, El Reno City Manager Tony Rivera stated in a Feb. 13 email he and Mayor Matt White had discussed the matter with county officials.
“It merits consideration to minimize the traffic in and out of parking lots in that area,” Rivera stated in his email.
As heavy machinery broke apart two homes and dug out trees to make way for the lots, Monday’s rain and snow slightly slowed a scheduled concrete pour at the jail expansion site, county building maintenance supervisor Clifford Lawson said. Construction crews were expected to move forward with that work sometime next week, he said.
“There was just no point in them trying to move forward when there was so much snow and it was so wet and muddy,” Lawson said.
Although it was a slight delay, Stewart said he was pleased with the pace of the $4.8 million, 120-bed addition. With the county sheriff’s department continuing to shuttle prisoners back and forth to jails in Grant, Dewey and Pottawatomie counties, officials would be happy when that was no longer necessary, he said.
“Obviously, that’s just an extra expense and it’s hard on the sheriff’s staff, so it’s something we’re all very aware of,” Stewart said.
Sheriff Randall Edwards said last year looking out at the new construction was a psychological boost to those employees, who have taken on the task of keeping county jail occupancies below the 72-prisoner level allowed by the Oklahoma Jail Inspector’s Office. While it would be more than a year until the project’s anticipated completion date, forward movement was a big plus for his staff, he said.
“I know it’s been a difficult thing for Bob Stuart, as our jail administrator, to try to live within the constraints we’ve had and to deal with that, but they’ve all been incredibly dedicated and handled it well – much better than I think many people could have been under those circumstances,” Edwards said at that time.
Prisoners must be moved back and forth between the three counties as medical appointments and court appearances dictate, Edwards said. While Stuart and his staff have attempted to select prisoners for housing outside the county who do not need a great deal of outside access for those reasons, it’s not always that simple, the sheriff said.
“You just never know, especially with medical appointments and things of that nature,” Edwards said. “Even with hearings, while we try to anticipate, things can always come up.”
Canadian County entered into contracts with the trio of counties to pay $20 per prisoner per day to house its overflow population, budgeting up to $511,000 for fiscal year 2013, according to county documents.
Dewey County Jail is located in Taloga, a 178-mile round trip, while Grant County’s facility in Medford is a 191-mile trek. It is about 130 miles round trip between Canadian County and Pottawatomie County jails.