Sheriff Morris Young went to Washington earlier this year to see if he could get support for the youth center he hopes to open in Quincy and a few other projects that require funding. Last Thursday Washington — in the person of Congressman Steve Southland — came to him.
After a short meeting in his office, Young and Southerland visited the 74,000-square-foot former tomato packing house that sits on 34 acres that he hopes will become a multi-purpose youth center.
Young convinced the District 2 congressman that the need for such a facility exists if children in rural communities are to be saved from the revolving doors of incarceration.
Renovating the center will come with a hefty price tag, but Southerland said his first step will be to sit down and talk with Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. Young’s idea, he said, has a lot of merit, and he would search for federal funds to bring it to fruition.
“Last summer we had kids in here every ay. This place could be packed every weekend if it was open. We used GSCO buses to pick up kids. They would start calling Deputy (Shannon) Faison as early as 5 a.m. to remind him not to forget to pick them up,” Young said.
He said the building sits almost in the center of the county and could host all sorts of events.
“I have seen counties that had a signature project. They are small, like Gadsden, but they held one event annually to fund a project. I could see that happening here with a tomato festival or something like that since this was a tomato warehouse,” Southerland suggested.
Young said he is talking about his idea to the local legislative delegation comprised of Rep. Alan Williams and Sen. Bill Montford. Marty Coley, who no longer represents part of the county, also supports the project, Young said.
“They understand children, and I have a wonderful relationship with all of them, including Gov. Scott, and we need to make this a priority,” Southerland said.
The next stop for the two was a visit to the county jail. Young explained that at the county jail overcrowded conditions are the rule rather than the exception. There are no funds available to build a new jail, but Young asked Southerland to consider the feasibility turning the state prison off State Road 268 (next to the jail) into a jail and a federal detainee facility.
The prison, he said, was scheduled to be closed, and it would be ideal for a jail with its 429 beds. Using the prison would solve Gadsden County’s overcrowding problem and if it housed ICE detainees, it could almost pay for itself.
“If it just sits here. It will cost the taxpayers between $200,000 and $250,000 just to keep it in mothballs,” Young said.
“I am committing some of my staffers to Gadsden County,” Southerland said. “We’ll bring people down here from Washington and keep the lines of communication open on this project.”