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Delaware jail eyes local school for extra space

DELAWARE COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) – A Delaware county commissioner has a unique proposal for a former middle school currently sitting vacant. He thinks it’s the ideal location for a new jail that could more than double the current local jail’s capacity.

Wilson Middle School – the newest building in the Muncie Community School System – has been empty since last June. Ironically, the current jail was just paid off last year.

Now Commissioner James King thinks creating a Justice Center complex at the former school would be a win-win for all.

Since it first opened in 1992, the Delaware County Jail has been the subject of concern with ongoing issues.

“Our courts are right down below the jail so when the inmates decide to flood their cells the water goes down into the courts,” King said.

The jail is also small; originally built to house only 120 inmates.

“Within a couple years they double bunked it to where it could go up to 220,” King said. “I know at times there have been times where we have been around 300 inmates.”

King, who is also chief of police in Daleville, says turning Wilson Middle School into a new jail would be the best solution.

“It’s big enough to where we could move the courts out there, our community corrections office out there, the clerk’s office that goes along with the courts, the sheriff’s department, our prosecutor’s office,” he said. “I mean we could just have a complex for our justice center right there.

With 500 proposed beds, King says 100 could be used for out-of-county inmates, and at $35 a day, could bring in close to $1.3 million a year.

He says he’s spoken to many people who also believe it would be a good idea.

“They’re for it,” King said. “They would like to see it happen.”

Rob Conatser, whose father lives in the neighborhood near the school, agrees.

“Well, I’d rather it be used for something than rather sitting around empty. Ya got a lot of riffraff around here,” Conatser said. “I think it’s a good idea. It’s a nice building. It already looks like a jail.”

King said a few people have expressed concerns, but once he talks to them they see the potential.

“Honestly to me, with the sheriff’s department being right next door, that if I did have a problem, I mean they could be there pretty quick,” he said.

But for now, King says it’s just an idea. He still needs to get the school system on board.

“If we can get something back from the school that would show us some kind of interest in selling us the school, I would then want to pursue it a little bit farther,” he said, “I have asked the county attorney to contact the city school’s attorney to get the wheels in motion.”

But getting the school system on board doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.

Superintendent Tim Heller said the school board hasn’t decided what to do with the school yet and any talk of turning it into a jail, or anything else, is “far-fetched” and “premature” at this point.

“The board has not decided what to do with it,” Heller said. “We are looking at other issues we have going on in with the schools and this is on the back burner.”

School Board President Robert Warner said he has concerns about putting a jail into the area. He added that no one has contacted them directly about buying the building.

“A lot of us are concerned about the future use of it,” Warner said. “We had a facilities study done that recommended uses for it that would still be educational. And, that is what it is after all, a school.”