Our View: Guilford’s prison farm is an asset

Jan. 30, 2013 @ 02:15 AM

Since last fall, some members of the old and new Guilford County Board of Commissioners and county government have been keen on the idea of developing the county prison farm near Gibsonville as a business park.
But since then, a number of reasons have arisen for not jumping into the business park development arena — about 16 million of them to be more precise.
A new study of the potential for developing the 806-acre prison farm as a business park reports that providing water and sewer service to the area could cost the county millions. This report found that tapping onto Burlington’s services could run as high as $16.3 million. Getting services from Gibsonville, while less expensive, could cost $3.5 million.
In addition to this study on potential costs, a company considering building a distribution center employing 500, has said it no longer is interested in locating there. It was the interest that company had expressed that got county officials all excited in the first place about closing the prison farm and developing a business park.
Commissioners began considering closing the prison farm when the 1,000 bed detention center opened in downtown Greensboro next to the old Guilford County Jail last year. Guilford opened the prison farm in 1935. It currently houses about 100 minimum security inmates who operate the farm and take care of grounds maintenance chores for county property. The facility also provides some occupational training as rehabilitative services.
The idea of a business park draws opposition from some residents of the area. They prefer allowing the land to remain as open space or for agricultural uses. Sheriff BJ Barnes, whose office supervises the farm, wants to keep it running and also endorses the open space positions of neighbors.
We don’t see the need for county commissioners to rush into doing something with the property, especially something so costly to taxpayers as providing water, sewer and other infrastructure for a business park. Prison farm neighbors make a good case for the environmental benefits of preserving open space, and there’s always the possibility that the county may need the space in the future for incarcerating inmates.
The prison farm remains an asset for Guilford County as it is currently being used. Given the absence of a plan that would be a huge economic boost at no cost to the taxpayers, it seems best to leave prison farm operations as they are.