Public Seeks Engineering Report On Proposed Bellows Falls Justice Center

Feb 1, 2016

A local attorney is asking that Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark release an engineering report on the building where he wants to build a detention center.

Ever since Clark announced that he had plans to build a $23 million detention center in Bellows Falls, the public has clamored for more information.

Now, Westminster attorney Ellen Kreitmeier has filed a public records request for the report.

She asked Clark to provide her with the engineering analysis of the former Chemco building, a vacant 57,000-foot facility on the south end of Bellows Falls.

Clark wants to build the Liberty Mill Justice Center to house federal and state detainees as well as former prisoners who are in transition.

In Kreitmeier's public records request she says the town of Rockingham refused to turn the report over to her when it was requested.

But Clark says the report has not yet been finished, though he said Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh received a copy.

Officials say the center is an innovative proposal that will bring many functions of the justice system under one roof, including transitional housing and specialized services for offenders.

"The draft should not been sent out," Clark says. "It was a work product within their office. I don't know why it was forwarded. For some reason it was forwarded to Dutch, or the town. I don't know who it was forwarded to. Then it was sent to me."

Clark's project has already received letters of support from all three members of Vermont's Congressional delegation and from former Department of Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito. The officials say the center is an innovative proposal that will bring many functions of the justice system under one roof, including transitional housing and specialized services for offenders.

The report will give Clark a clearer idea of whether the Bellows Falls building can support the project.

"If I decide not to utilize this building, for whatever reason, and this report is public, someone else can use this report for their own benefit ... without having to reimburse me for that cost." — Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark

Clark says he did receive the public records request and he says he will likely release the final report when it is available.

"My concern is we paid almost $13,000 for this report to do my due diligence on this building," he says. "If I decide not to utilize this building, for whatever reason, and this report is public, someone else can use this report for their own benefit on that building without having to reimburse me for that cost. But I've spent the money. The public wants to know, and I'll probably end up just putting it on my web page and sending it to the people who have made the request."

Clark is also waiting to hear if the project will receive support through a $250,000 USDA grant.

The town of Rockingham will hold a nonbinding vote on the project on Town Meeting Day.

The building is zoned for public use, and Clark could move ahead without public approval of the project.