For bargain price, Haywood County is proud new owner of shuttered prison

fr prisonFor a little less than the cost of a cup of coffee, Haywood County is buying the small, closed-down state prison in the Hazelwood community of Waynesville.

The county is buying the 128-bed minimum security prison from the state for just $1. However, the county will not take ownership of the complex until Jan. 1.

“It’s not ours yet,” said Mark Swanger, chair of the county Board of Commissioners, adding that the county cannot do anything to the property until then.

The 128-bed prison sits on 2.27 acres next to the county jail.

After years of threatening to do so, the state finally closed the minimum-security penitentiary last year as a cost-saving measure. Smaller prisons like the one in Hazelwood have higher overhead costs than larger prisons, so the N.C. General Assembly closed its smaller operations and consolidated its prisoners.

The state still faced the responsibility for the buildings upkeep, which could get pricey. So selling the prison to the county behooved the state as well.

The commissioners expressed interest in buying or leasing the property when it first closed but wanted to ensure that the county would get a fair deal. The state was not likely to fetch a good price for it at a public auction, but handing it over to the county keeps it from being a maintenance headache and liability for the state.

It is still unclear what the county will use the building for, though it could offer expanded space for the county jail, its Emergency Medical Services operations or animal services. The senate bill that allowed for the sale only stipulates that it be used for official government business.

County officials plan to conduct a space study and hold meetings to see how best it can be used.

“We just need to take a measured approach,” Swanger said.

One option for the prison is to use it for its original intended purpose — as a prison. For $40 a night, the county would house prisoners from other counties that don’t have enough space in their own jail or from the state itself.

“It would provide for future expansion of the Haywood County jail,” Swanger said.

With the county jail next door, the prison wouldn’t need its own cooks or medical officer or canteen. It could piggyback on the jail’s support staff and really only need the guards. The number of guards could be adjusted depending on how many prisoners were present at any given time.

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