As of last month, the Jail/Law Enforcement Center Facility Committee that has been working on the eventual construction of a new Clay County Jail and Law Enforcement Center that will house the offices of the Clay County Sheriff’s Department and the Vermillion Police Department had settled on three sites to possibly build the new facility.

This week, a fourth site was added to the list for consideration: the Clay County Fairgrounds in Vermillion.

Committee members agreed to explore the idea by the conclusion of a Zoom meeting it held Tuesday night. The idea was brought up by City Council President Rich Holland. He and Alderman Howard Willson are members of the facility committee as the city’s representatives on that board.

Three sites had been identified, by the end of last year, as the best potential places for the new facility.

Steven Waller, committee chairperson, and a few other members of the committee voiced fears that exploring whether the fairgrounds may be a suitable site will lengthen the process of making progress on the new buildings and that would, in turn, drive up the new facility’s costs.

Waller cited personal estimates that each of delay could add $1 million to $2 million to the new jail and law enforcement center’s price tag.

“All the criteria we’re looking for – a good location, land – it would require moving the fairgrounds, but they’ve been looking for improvements for quite a while, so I think it would benefit that, as well,” Holland said. “It’s an ideal location because of its condition, the cost of it and even though we’re coming up with extra things we have to do, I think they can be done in a timely manner.

“It’s a very good location with enough room, enough exposure and very close to the center of town,” he said. “I think it’s a very doable thing.”

Sheriff Andy Howe, when asked his opinion, said the fairgrounds is a “functional site,” as are the three other sites that have been identified.

The three areas that under current, primary consideration as of late last year are a site on National Street, which is just north of the current courthouse, a site located on the corner of Cherry and Stanford streets, in the vicinity of Pump ‘N Pak and Eagle Creek and a site on Cottage Street, east of Ace Hardware where a trailer court was once located.

The committee has hopes to make a final decision on which site is the best and share their recommendation with the Clay County Commission to receive either a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

“The issue I’ve had with the site, and I’ve shared it with the committee on several occasions is the fairgrounds has a tremendous amount of moving parts,” Waller said. “You would have to consider relocation of the fair, the grounds, the facilities, the structures and you would have to determine the ownership of the property.

“I asked our state’s attorney, Alexis Tracy, for thoughts on whether the county would need to own the land,” he said. “The fairgrounds is an interesting structure – the land is owned by the city, the structures I believe, are owned by the county and it’s under a long-term lease.”

Waller said Tracy has advised that for several reasons, including bonding and insurance, it likely would be best if the county owned the property.

Should the county purchase the fairgrounds, all of the Clay County fair buildings would have to be relocated or likely torn down as many are in poor condition. The public transit building would remain as would the cell phone tower that’s located on the property. The baseball diamonds on the west side of the property would stay, as would the open field, Waller said.

High Street would likely either be closed or routed around the facility should it be built there.

“To me, the issue here is, if we take this option, we clearly need to cooperate and get the support of the fair board and would have to coordinate with them that process,” Waller said. “To me, this project would then assume the cost of that relocation, to some extent. My mind puts that at $1 million to $2 million.”

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