Escambia County commissioners voted Thursday to spend $4.5 million to purchase a 14-acre property in West Pensacola to construct and expand the county jail complex.
The purchase of the property on the southeast corner of Fairfield Drive and Pace Boulevard, commonly known as the McDonald Shopping Center, paves the way to develop the site for the new jail facility in the wake of the explosion that destroyed the jail’s central booking facility.
The April 2014 explosion killed two people, injured more than 180, and destroyed the jail facility on Leonard Street. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials concluded last year that replacement of the jail was preferred over repair, which led to county officials pursuing sites where a new facility could be built.
As part of the plan, the county will retain a consultant to develop a master plan to assist with economic development and neighborhood revitalization within a 12-block diameter of the intersection of Pace Boulevard and Fairfield Drive in West Pensacola. The redevelopment would include reserving approximately 300 feet of road frontage for economic development, with an emphasis on small businesses and businesses owned by minorities and women.
“Today’s decision helps move the construction of a new jail facility forward significantly,” the county said in a statement. “The commission vowed to work with current tenants and leaseholders in their transition as the project progresses. Property owners will not be expected to vacate until six to 12 months from now.”
Additionally, the county will build a youth center in the vicinity of the property that is similar in size, design and facilities as the Wedgewood Community Center.
Commissioners unanimously agreed the design of the expanded jail complex will be “street-friendly” and not institutional like the current complex design.
The property was originally appraised at $3 million, $1.5 million under the purchase price commissioners agreed to.
Despite the cost, commissioners agreed that rebuilding at the current site will allow the county to resolve stormwater issues surrounding the county complex and keep the sheriff’s office and jail facilities consolidated in one central location.
Outside consultants hired by Escambia County have said that with the acquisition of the shopping center property up to 40 percent of the land will have to be used as a stormwater pond to mitigate flooding impacts in the flood-prone areas surrounding the jail.
As the county moves forward to rebuild the jail, the county is paying nearly half a million dollars per month to house inmates in out-of-county detention facilities.
Early estimates put the cost of building a new jail at more than $160 million, with FEMA and the state expected to contribute about $50 million for jail demolition and construction. County officials have said it could take up to four years to construct the facility.