Cleveland County Commissioners have completed the purchase of a 28.92-acre tract of land located near Franklin Road and 24th Avenue NW which could be used for a new county jail.

Then again, it might not.

The property, purchased for $1.2 million, was owned by York International, now known as Johnson Controls. It is just south of the company’s air conditioner plant.

The land is “one of several" still being considered for the jail — but commission chairman George Skinner said a final decision about the location hasn’t been made.

“We don’t know where the jail will be located yet,” Skinner said Thursday afternoon. “But if we don’t put it there (Franklin Road) then we can sell that land and get our money back, even make a profit.”

Skinner said the land wasn’t “originally on the market” but was brought to the commission’s attention by Norman real estate broker Eric Fleske.

“No it wasn’t orginally for sale,” he said. “It was brought to us. But it’s a good deal and we can make money on it.”

The Franklin Road site has been the center of a controversial plan for a second county jail for several months — the location has drawn complaints from residents in the area, business leaders and state legislators.

This spring, following the decision to purchase the site, state Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, and state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, pushed two bills — House Bill 1776 and Senate Bill 896 — to try to stop the county from building a jail on the Franklin Road location.

Both measures would have forced the commission to build a jail near the existing facility in downtown Norman.

Neither bill made it to the governor’s desk.

In April, more than 50 area residents packed a commission meeting to discuss the jail’s location. At that meeting, commissioners voted 2-1 to move forward on the purchase of the Franklin Road land for $1.3 million. District 3 commissioner Rusty Sullivan and District 1 interim commissioner Mark Meyer voted in favor of the purchase. Skinner vote “no.”

Despite the purchase, commissioners have struggled with possible jail locations.

Two other sites — one on Rock Creek Road between Flood Avenue and Norman’s new fire station, and the other, about eight miles east of Lexington, near a state prison — were considered earlier this year but dropped.

Instead, the commission focused on the Franklin Road land.

“If we can’t find a better location, then that’s where it (the jail) would probably be,” Skinner said. “But there are no spots which are definite.”

In documents dated March 1, commissioners — acting as the Cleveland County Facilities Authority — proposed purchasing the Franklin Road site for $1.2 million, a figure $100,000 less than the $1.3 million they approved in April.

However, that proposal fell through because of laws governing the way public funds are spent by public finance authorities, Skinner said. Instead, the $1.2 million purchase was made through the commission’s general fund.

“We couldn’t buy the land through the facilities authority because the county can’t give money to the trust and the trust couldn’t use county money to buy it,” Skinner said. “It’s real complicated.”

Additionally, he said county officials need more information before deciding on a location.

Skinner said commissioners wanted to see a report by jail architect Ben Graves

Graves, a principal partner in the firm Architects in Partnership, confirmed this week that a third, yet undisclosed site also was being considered for the jail.

“The commission is looking at an alternative site (to the Franklin Road) as a possibility,” Graves said. “But until that determination is made I wouldn’t have any news.”

Graves declined to say where the third site was located.

“I can’t tell you where the alternate site is,” he said. “The commissioners want to get it tied up before they discuss it.”

To make that decision Graves said he, along with all three commission members and county Sheriff DeWayne Beggs, will attend a conference sponsored by the federal Bureau of Prisons in late August.

Information from that conference, he said, along with a report from county jail consultant Don Jones, “will have an impact on what the county’s (jail) plans will be.”

“I think the commission and the sheriff will glean a lot from that conference,” Graves said. “I think the site will be selected by the end of August, following the conference.”

The long timetable, Skinner said, was necessary.

“We haven’t rushed it,” he said. “We want to make sure that all our ducks are in a row, and not get caught up in problems like other counties.”

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