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INDEPENDENCE — It’s finally official.
A long-dormant state prison in Grayson County is set to open in October, after the Virginia General Assembly approved a revised $87.4 billion spending plan that includes a total of $18 million to open the River North Correctional Center near Independence.
The General Assembly adjourned its 2013 session in Richmond on Feb. 23 and both the Senate and House of Delegates approved a budget that included the prison money.
The 1,024-bed medium security facility was completed in the fall of 2010 but hasn’t opened because of a lack of operation funding.
Gov. Bob McDonnell put $14.3 million in his budget proposal last month to open the prison by January 2014. That funding survived the General Assembly session, and State Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) said Monday that an additional $3.5 million was approved to open the prison even earlier.
Plans now call for opening the facility by October.
The bill is on Gov. McDonnell’s desk waiting for his signature, and we don’t anticipate any problems,” Carrico said. “The facility will face no further hurdles en route to opening this fall... I’m excited by the good news for our region.”
According to Carrico, hiring should start in July to provide adequate time for training new employees.
He said it would probably take up to a year to get the facility operating at full capacity.
Carrico said up to 350 people could be hired to fill many different positions.
“And these jobs aren’t just limited to law enforcement,” said Galax Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Judy Brannock. “These facilities normally have a variety of positions on contract. They need a barber, a nurse, dentist, people to work with incoming and outgoing mail, cafeteria positions... it’s not just about walking up and down the jail cells.”
For the openings requiring law enforcement training, Brannock added that this area was well-prepared for it. Many graduates from Wytheville Community College have already obtained police science degrees, many of them due to the promise that this facility would someday be ready for them.
Since 2010, the state has employed only a skeleton crew of workers and has spent about $700,000 a year on maintenance and upkeep.
With the window of opportunity this opens up for local job-seekers, the Chamber of Commerce is thrilled to see this empty vessel filled and utilized, Brannock said. “It is a draw for this region. People who come to visit family there will go out to eat here, shop here, rent a room here.”
The construction crew hired to build River North stood as a great example of this, as many of the workers rented hotel rooms locally and ate at nearby restaurants during their stay here.
“This has truly been a historic session of the General Assembly for Southwest Virginia,” Carrico said in a statement on Monday. “For years, we have fought tirelessly to open the River North Correctional Center and put hundreds of our citizens back to work.
At long last, with the support of leaders across the state, we have passed a final budget that will open the facility. I cannot overstate the magnitude of this victory for our region.”
According to Moseley Architects, the firm that designed the prison, River North Correctional Center features four separate housing units, each containing 256 cells on two levels. There is also a support building housing 20 segregation cells, intake, food service, laundry, vocational technology and visiting; and a 30,000-square-foot industries building.
Additional buildings are located outside of the secure perimeter, including an administration building, a maintenance/warehouse building and a hazardous materials storage building.