The new Oklahoma County Jail will not be built on a plot of land offered to the county for free by a Norman-based real estate company after strong objections by community members during a meeting of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee today.
The board is tasked with selecting a site for a new county jail. A decision had been targeted for the end of August, but members made no reference to an updated timeline Wednesday.
Bergen Real Estate LLC had offered the county a 77-acre parcel of land at the northeast corner of Kelley Avenue and Britton Road in northeast Oklahoma City. The property was one of 12 sites being considered, but the board voted 5-0 to recommend its elimination as an option to county commissioners.
The proposed site would have been near Harding Charter Preparatory School, an OKCPS-sponsored charter high school that moved to the site of the former Centennial High School. During the public comments section of the meeting, Harding Superintendent Steven Stefanick urged the board to pick a different site.
“While we understand the necessity of correctional facilities in Oklahoma County, and the free price tag provided is intriguing, we strongly believe this particular location at Britton Road and Kelley Avenue will do more harm than good for the future of our state and the students we serve today,” he said. “Placing a county jail near this school would introduce potential risks and disturbances that would negatively impact our students’ sense of security and their ability to focus on their education.”
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel also spoke against the Kelley Avenue and Britton Road location. McDaniel said that, based on the district’s research, state law would actually preclude the jail from being located on that site.
“We think it’s a matter of law that disqualifies item 8.1 from consideration,” McDaniel told the board. “We believe through general counsel researching this and also the Center for Educational Law validating what we found, it seems to be very clear that a school cannot be within 1,000 feet of a jail or, in this case, an adult detention facility.”
About a half dozen nearby residents also spoke out against that location, including Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice. In her remarks, Nice criticized property owner Susan Bergen for not working with the community when it comes to how the land is developed.
“Britton and Kelley is an issue for our community as well as me,” Nice told the board. “We have worked extremely hard to keep harm from happening and continuing to happen in northeast Oklahoma City. Their advocacy has assisted with us being able to ask you all to remove northeast-located sites from your potential list, and we are very grateful for that. However, for us to be surprised by this potential free land by Bergen Enterprises was a slap in the face to not only myself but to current business owners who are in proximity to her current property as well. She had plans to turn this into a place of refuge as far as housing is considered, so to now offer that as a place of incarceration is a slap in our face.”
Oklahoma County public defender Bob Ravitz also spoke out against the Kelley Avenue and Britton Road site.
“It would be utterly absurd for you to put a facility at Kelley and Britton,” he said. “I can’t believe anyone would even consider doing something like that. First of all, Broadway Extension is an absolute mess at 5 p.m., and in the morning when you’d be transporting people back and forth between jail. Secondly, you’ve heard from all these people that when people are released they have to have somewhere to go. I just think it’s absurd.”
Other potential sites nixed
During its Wednesday meeting, the board also eliminated potential sites, including:
- the southwest corner of Portland Avenue and Southwest 29th Street;
- 80 to 132 acres of land south of the intersection of Midwest Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard;
- 63 acres of land at Southeast 29th Street west of the Kickapoo Turnpike;
- 60 acres of land at 900 S. Council Road and I-40 access road;
- 63 acres of land near the interchange of I-35 and the John Kilpatrick Turnpike.
In other jail site-related news, the board approved an RFP for potential jail contractors, which will be opened next month. The new jail, which was approved by county voters last year, is expected to open by 2026 or 2027.