Saturday, August 23, 2008

Prison could be built within Marion Oaks

By Rick Cundiff

Published: Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 6:30 a.m.

OCALA - Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison management company, confirmed Friday that it is vying for a state contract to build and operate a 2,000-bed prison, and wants to put it in Marion County.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based company has its eyes on more than 900 acres along the south side of County Road 484, almost 2 miles west of Interstate 75, in a sparsely populated area of Marion Oaks. A sand mine, a home and pasture currently occupy the property, which the McGinley Family Limited Partnership owns.

The proximity of the facility to a residential area has raised concerns among members of the Marion Oaks Civic Association.

"We do not want this prison facility built in the middle of Marion Oaks. That's the general consensus," said Miguel Santos, the association president.

"The Marion Oaks community is stereotypically seen in a<0x000a>negative sense, and having a prison would just add to that."

CCA is responding to an "invitation to negotiate," issued by the state Department of Management Services, to design, build and operate the prison. The 2,000-bed facility would house a mix of medium-security inmates and prisoners under close custody, who have to be within an armed perimeter or directly under armed supervision at all times, said CCA spokesman Steve Owen.

Under Florida law, prisoners from other states could not be incarcerated there, according to a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

A contract for the facility is expected to be signed by Nov. 1, and the prison would be required to be built by April 30, 2010, according to the documents that the Florida Department of Management Services issued.

CCA considered expanding two additional facilities it operates in other counties, but decided the Marion Oaks location would be the most feasible solution, Owen said.

The prison would cost about $100 million, Owen said. It likely would require about 300 construction workers, and would offer about the same number of permanent full-time jobs once completed, he added.

Once the prison opens, each job would offer an average salary and benefits totaling about $40,000 per year, he said. Owen was unable to break out salaries separately, but said benefits typically account for 20 percent to 25 percent of the $40,000 figure.

Santos, from the Marion Oaks Civic Association, said he'd like to see the property used instead for a hospital or a Central Florida Community College satellite campus. Santos and Mildred Musho, another association member, said County Commissioner Jim Payton, CCA officials, a member of the McGinley family and a representative of Moss Construction, which would be in charge of the construction project, met with a small group of residents recently to discuss the planned prison.

Santos and Musho said they appreciated the officials' openness, but the Civic Association plans to send a letter to Payton formally voicing its opposition.

"I want to see Marion Oaks attract high quality residents and I don't think this will do it," Musho said.

Owen said concerns over property values and security are common when CCA announces plans to build a prison. "It's almost impossible to site a correctional facility anywhere without some level of objection," he said.

But Owen maintained that the company often wins communities over because of the economic boost it offers and a commitment to safety as "our number one priority."

Although talk of CCA looking at sites in Marion first surfaced in February, the Department of Management Services officially started soliciting companies to build a new prison in mid-July. Companies have until Sept. 9 to submit bids, with a contract awarded Nov. 1 - at a construction cost not to exceed $110 million.

Chris Curry may be reached at or 867-4115. Rick Cundiff may be reached at or 867-4130.

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