FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Allen County officials have a site for the new county jail.

The Allen County Commissioners on Wednesday passed a motion to draft a purchase agreement for a property at 2911 Meyer Road to erect the new jail. The site, located between Fort Wayne and New Haven, less than a mile south of S.R. 930, was International Harvester’s Navistar campus until the company closed its operations for good here in 2015.

The site rose to the top of a list of properties around the county based on its “develop-able farmland,” development around the site, the ability for future development, existing utilities, and site conditions, according to a presentation from Cory Miller, whose Elevatus architecture firm has been tasked with designing the new jail.

The jail would be built on about 70 acres of undeveloped property to the east of the vacant buildings. The commissioners could use existing buildings on the property to consolidate county offices, they said.

“This is probably the best site we could have ever have asked for,” said Commissioner Therese Brown.

Added Commissioner Richard Beck: “It does make a lot of sense to us.”

Other sites considered by the commissioners were:

  • the sheriff’s training ground at Adams Center and Paulding roads
  • land off Hillegas Road just north of Illinois Road
  • property off Ferguson Road at U.S. 27.

By choosing the Meyer Road site, the commissioners avoided the deepening criticism of preliminarily choosing the 195-acre training facility at Adams Center and Paulding roads, which sits across Prince Chapman Academy and within sight of three other public schools. Critics, including three city council members, said placing the jail there sent the wrong message to the people who live on the southside of town.

The site can more than adequately meet the needs spelled out by the commissioners. Nine criteria are listed on their website and they include the following:

  • Proximity to medical facilities: Is the location close to existing hospitals or mental health facilities?
  • Proximity to county judicial facilities
  • Proximity to law enforcement and county municipal offices
  • Potential impact on existing or future residential or commercial development
  • Existing utilities and other critical services
  • Capacity to allow for increased traffic and unimpacted transportation of inmates
  • Potential acquisition cost
  • Parcel size and layout

Meyer Road is in an industrial zone, though a residential area exists just to the northeast of the planned jail site.

Neighbors near the sheriff’s training facility objected to building a jail there, and it appears neighbors on Medford Drive, which dead ends into the back end of the chosen property, do as well.

Tina Tatum lives a few doors down from the field and says the neighbors she’s talked to aren’t in favor of the jail development.

“We’re not liking it at all because if somebody gets loose, they’ll be running right through the neighborhood,” Tatum said. who added that having a jail at the end of the street would have “an odd look.”

Tatum has lived on Medford Drive for about seven years and said it’s a quiet neighborhood. Around the corner from her home is Sunnymede Park.

New Haven Mayor Steve McMichael issued this statement on the new site:

“We understand the need to secure a new location for the Allen County Jail. Our top priority is to maintain the interests of our residents while continuing to work with the Allen County Commissioners and the Allen County Sherriff’s Office to ensure the needs of our city. Although the announced location is not in New Haven, we will work to ensure the location does not negatively impact our community.”

It’s not clear how much the county will need to pay for the site. Allen County tax records show the property is owned by Meyer Venture LLC, which lists the same address of local commercial real estate brokerage NAI Hanning & Bean.

Owner Bill Bean told WANE 15 he wasn’t necessarily looking to sell the property and had been exploring different development ideas, but said he had given his asking price to the commissioners. Bean said he would donate “any difference between my asking price and the appraised value.”

He said the property was “probably the best choice of those considered.”

2911 Meyer Road

The existing jail downtown at Clinton and Superior streets was deemed outdated, overcrowded and understaffed leading to inhumane conditions by federal judge Damon R. Leichty in March after the Indiana ACLU and inmates filed a lawsuit in January 2020.

The Allen County Sheriff and the commissioners were named in the lawsuit and have been given deadlines to change the situation. With the county’s population growing and a heightened concern about mental health, a new jail has been proposed that would house at least 1,000 inmates and have a mental health facility along with cells in PODS.  One story PODS allow for easier supervision and greater access to indoor and outdoor recreation.

Sean Johnson, a southeast side resident who is a member of Help Not Handcuffs, came to Wednesday’s commissioners meeting prepared to dislike what the commissioners said because most of them expected the sheriff’s training facility to be chosen. Johnson, who said he was representing the young people, was happy with the decision because the commissioners didn’t choose the sheriff’s training facility.

“We are happy with that, but there’s still a fiscal matter, a fiscal responsibility that needs to be discussed as well. Because again, our tax dollars are going toward that. We need to make sure those dollars are being spent correctly.”

Help Not Handcuffs, an organization that formed to oppose the training facility site, has complained that the commissioners have not communicated with the public about the jail process, even though it’s discussed weekly at the commissioners’ meeting.

“This is an issue that is going to affect mostly black and brown people, so there needs to be more black and brown people at the table,” Johnson said. He called the communication, dry, unappeasing and “frankly disgraceful.

“I will say after today, we need to come out and speak on their behalf,” Johnson continued, “to (let them) know how we truly feel in a public setting. Our community does actually care about what’s going on.”

Also Wednesday, the commissioners signed a purchase agreement for five acres on Paulding Road that will complete the sheriff’s training facility, making it an even 200 acres. The purchase for $198,000 will keep the property from being developed as the sheriff’s training facility is most likely to be further developed as the years go on. The price is the average of two appraisals, required for county purchases