By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- Area officials marked a milestone in cooperation Tuesday with the completion of a new regional jail.
The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail remains on track to open July 1. The opening of the $72 million, 175,000-square-foot jail just north of Front Royal on U.S. 340-522 comes after a decade of planning and construction, debate and controversy.
Representatives from the three counties, along with other people involved in the project, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning to celebrate its completion.
Judge Dennis L. Hupp, who presides over the 26th judicial circuit, spoke during the ceremony.
"I will not call it a nice facility; It's a jail," Hupp said. "I call it an impressive facility. I was impressed by its design, the thought that went into it, the technology, the security features and its spaciousness -- spaciousness that reflects our common belief in the dignity of human kind and the right of even those who transgressed our laws to be treated with decency and with some modicum of respect.
"Having said this I must tell you that the longer my tour [of the jail] lasted the closer the walls seemed to be," Hupp added.
The judge noted the jail would offer an expanded rehabilitative program currently beyond the local facilities. Hupp recognized the collaborative effort by the three counties and the help they received from the state. The regional jail should meet the goals of the criminal justice system, Hupp said.
Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson and Sheriff Timothy Carter did not attend the ceremony. Warren County Supervisor Linda Glavis also did not attend the event.
Carter opposed the regional project over the years, especially the use of local tax dollars to fund the jail and the unknown costs associated with running the facility once on line.
Shenandoah County Supervisors Cindy Bailey, a former captain for the Shenandoah County Jail, opposed the project before joining the board, citing worries over its cost to local taxpayers and disputing the need for a regional jail.
Bailey's opinion didn't change after touring the jail.
"In Judge Hupp's words 'it's a jail,'" Bailey said. "It doesn't look like a jail but it's a jail and as long as it's safe and secure and meets all the requirements then the job was done. But I do see money that could've stayed in Shenandoah County we could've used for other things and for needs there."
Doug Stanley, county administrator for Warren County, lauded the camaraderie among the people involved in the project. Stanley also chairs the RSW Regional Jail Authority board and received kudos himself from other officials.
"When we encountered issues -- and with any large project like this you're going to have issues -- whether it was property acquisition for the access road or water issues or financing issues, we worked together, worked through them in a professional manner," Stanley said.
Stanley also lauded the state legislators who helped secure matching funds for the project. The state is expected to reimburse the jail authority for up to 50 percent of the eligible costs of the project.
Howard Shockey & Sons President Jeff Boehm spoke about his company's work on the project.
"In the end, what we like to do is build and we've had a great opportunity to build here what is an impressive facility as one of the speakers has already said but, more importantly, what is a very efficient and a very safe facility," Boehm said.
Shenandoah County Supervisor Conrad Helsley said work on the project began in 2005 when Sheriff Timothy C. Carter spoke to him of deficiencies and space problems facing the local jail. The project evolved into a regional effort that resulted in the creation of the jail authority board and ultimately the new facility.
"Never in the history of Shenandoah County, and I might add Warren and Rappahannock counties, has there been such a large project that we worked together to the extent of producing the RSW Regional Jail," Helsley said. "As our counties move toward the future, we must look to regional projects instead of individual ones in order to obtain the best bang for the buck for the taxpayers."
Warren County Supervisors Chairman Daniel J. Murray Jr. once opposed the creation of the jail before he joined his board but soon realized its need.
"This truly has been a team effort," Murray said.
Roger Welch, chairman of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, called this a "bittersweet period" for the county because it must close its jail after 181 years of operation and make way for the new facility. The county has one of the oldest operating jails in the state, Welch said.
"The reality was its time had come," Welch said. "Funding dictated the most cost-effective way was to be working with our neighbors in Warren and Shenandoah counties."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com