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Bellows Falls Mill Won't Work For Justice Center

Howard Weiss-Tisman
A new engineering study found structural issues in the Liberty Mill Paper Co. building.

A former paper mill in Bellows Falls might not be  the best site for a proposed 150-bed detention center.

During a recent inspection engineers discovered major structural problems in the building.

Now the Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark says he'll keep looking for the right location.

Clark faced stiff local opposition when he said he was eyeing the Bellows Falls building.

Clark wants to build a $23 million facility to hold state and federal detainees waiting trial, as well as provide transitional housing to people getting out of incarceration.

Clark is selling the plan as a bold idea to transform the criminal justice system, and he says it'll save money and help provide more complete support to former prisoners and their families.

"So the bottom line up front is the report on that building is not stopping us from moving forward with the concept of building within Windham County," Clark says.

Clark wouldn't talk about where else he's looking.

He says the project needs water and sewer infrastructure; it has to have good access, and it needs to be somewhere between Brattleboro and Rutland

"So when you start looking at all of that, there are few options out there at this point," he says.

Some of Clark's sharpest critics pounded him to release any information he could while he was developing the controversial plan.

He said from the start the building along the Connecticut River would have be inspected, and he said he was working to be as transparent as possible.

There's been tension over just how much information he needed to release as  the project moved forward.
Clark anticipates similar challenges as he looks at other sites for the detention center.

"It is a balance between keeping the public informed and not hurting my ability to do this financially," Clark says.

Clark says it still might be an option to tear down the former paper mill and build something new, and he says he'll continue investigating the original site, along with other options.

His original proposal included working with a private developer who would build  and own the facility, with Clark leasing space to run his programs.

He says any future plan would be put together using the same formula.

The deal could bring in millions of dollars in contracts for Clark and he says up to 60 new jobs could be created.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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