EDITORIAL: Officials need openness, safety with new jail

Mar. 30—The construction cost of new buildings shouldn't be capped just to keep a tight rein on dollars.

Builders shouldn't skimp on high-rise apartments, court offices, college dorms, schools, or just about anything where large groups of people congregate. Throw jails into that mix.

The new Madison County sheriff's office and detention center, better known as the new county jail, involves the $110 million construction of a two-story facility at 2801 Broadway on Anderson's north side.

The building will hold two detention pods, administrative offices, classrooms and some cells with protective padding among other measures.

Last fall, the Madison County Board of Commissioners sought, and received, variances from the state building codes. They were approved by the Indiana Fire and Building Safety Commission, a division of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

In one example, the state code requires windowless buildings to have a smoke control system. Instead, a heating, ventilating and air conditioning system will remove smoke should a fire erupt.

In another example, padded cells must have walls that are strong enough to keep fire from breaking through for at least an hour. Sprinklers generally can't be used to replace that safety feature but the commissioners got the OK to install them.

These variances are inside the jail walls where, perhaps, few law-abiding citizens will be affected.

Life outside the soon-to-be-built walls is a different matter.

The jail, expected to house 525 inmates, is to be in the 2800 block of Broadway behind several commercial businesses including the Wendy's and Captain D's restaurants and the area north of the Anderson Roll Arena.

It is difficult to tell how close the jail would be from Indiana Christian Academy or homes along County Road 300 North.

The site, previously owned by Meijer stores, won't be paying property taxes like Meijer has been paying on the vacant land.

Under Anderson city code, the minimum size of a lot zoned for general business (a jail is general business nowadays) is 80 acres. The new jail site is planned for only 47 acres. The commissioners have already obtained city approval to build on a smaller site.

Similarly, code bars such a general business from being within 300 feet of a residential area. The jail is about 90 feet from the property line of North Pointe Commons apartments and the Indian Meadows subdivision, both on the east side of Broadway. The four-lane street separates the jail site and the residences.

On April 3, the Board of Zoning Appeals will evaluate a request for a special exception that would allow construction of a jail at the site. The meeting is slated for 4:30 p.m. at the Anderson City Building, 120 E. Eighth St., in the council chambers.

Practically, all new jail facilities in Indiana receive some sort of building variance.

Without question, Madison County needs a new, functional and safe jail.

Residents, however, have the right to oppose or support the project.

It is hard to gauge residents' views until the hearing is conducted. To that end, we again encourage all elected officials involved in the project, as well as development firms and contractors, to ensure the new jail meets all legal requirements and safety standards — and to let the public know when variances and exceptions are sought.

We have only one chance to get this expensive project right.