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Gainesville not yet satisfied with jail’s exterior

Proposed razor wire draws ire from some council members

POSTED: April 2, 2009 11:18 p.m.

Gainesville City Council members met Thursday with the operators of the North Georgia Detention Center, and some say they still aren’t impressed with the efforts the jail operators are making to dress up the building’s exterior.

The facility sits in the heart of Gainesville’s Midtown — an area where city officials have their sights set on beautification projects and redevelopment. Razor wire isn’t in those plans.

The City Council has expressed its disappointment that Corrections Corporation of America, the private jail operator that soon will house immigration detainees in the old Hall County Jail, has no plans to take down the razor wire surrounding the facility.

A CCA spokeswoman told The Times last week that razor wire is standard for all the company’s facilities.

The company met with council members separately Thursday, showing them efforts to beautify the property.

Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick said the company had plans to lower the razor wire, paint the fence surrounding the facility and plant junipers around it.

"Well, it’s not exactly what we wanted," Hamrick said. "We were laboring under the thought that the fencing and the razor wire, this sort of thing, would be taken down."

Councilman Danny Dunagan said he was not impressed, either. Dunagan and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner met with CCA officials together. He said CCA officials told him of plans to plant Leyland cypress trees around the fence to eventually help cover the appearance of a jail.

"In my eyes, that’s not enough," Dunagan said. "I don’t want to wait two or three or four years for the cypress to get big enough to hide it. I want it hid right now."

Bruner and Councilman George Wangemann did not return calls requesting comment Thursday night, but Dunagan said Bruner "didn’t seem to think it was enough for her, either."

Dunagan acknowledged that the jail officials were trying to compromise with city officials who balked last week at the company’s long-term lease of the facility and plans to house what they thought would be maximum-security immigration detainees.

City officials originally had planned to buy the building from Hall County with a seven-year lease back to the county. Early in 2008, the city announced a contract to buy the property for $4 million, but the deal never went through.

Then, late last year, the county finalized a 20-year lease for the property with CCA at a rate of $2 million a year. The deal put a wrinkle in the city’s plans to redevelop Midtown and caused a public back-and-forth between the two governments in the media.

But county officials say the city let the contract to purchase the facility lapse. City officials counter that the county’s attorney, Bill Blalock, instructed them to hold off on signing the contract until some details were worked out. The city says Blalock never followed up.

CCA officials asked Dunagan not to let them get caught in the middle of the disagreement, Dunagan said.

"They (CCA) just asked us to work with them and let the dealings between the county be between the county and the city and let them (CCA) go about their business," Dunagan said.

Staff writer Stephen Gurr contributed to this report.



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