New state hospital, prison to boost small town

Junction City

Junction City

Portland Daily Journal of Commerce, July 21 2009

Junction City, a community of 5,000, prepares for a huge influx of 2,100 inmates and mental patients

Even in rapidly growing state such as Oregon, Junction City’s expected growth is unusual. The Lane County community of 5,000 is preparing to accommodate more than 2,100 new people.

Fortunately, planners know exactly where to put them: two state prisons and a new state mental hospital.

Construction is expected to begin this fall to prepare Junction City for the massive project. The minimum- and medium-security prisons and site work will cost an estimated $450 million.

The hospital is part of a project that would replace the Oregon State Hospital in Salem. The $458-million project cost includes a 620-bed hospital in Salem along with the 360-bed hospital in Junction City, which is between Corvallis and Eugene.

Junction City officials lobbied the state to build a hospital in their community, said Mayor Dwight Coon. “That was where the prison was going, and it made sense for the state,” Coon said. “The infrastructure needed for one was needed for the other.”

It also makes sense for the city, Coon said. Junction City will receive improvements to its water and sewer systems as it prepares for the prisons and hospital.

Under an agreement between the city and state, expected to be signed Monday, the city would pay $4.4 million for the upgrades, with the state picking up around $31 million. In addition, the state is advancing Junction City the $4.4 million.

Junction City’s $4.4 million piece would build a bigger sanitary sewer pipe than the state needs. That would allow the city to bring sewer service to future industrial and commercial development in the area, Coon said.

The city will pay the money back only if the project gets built, said Steve Ward with Westech Engineering, the city’s engineer. “If the state (Department of Corrections) pulls out, we would not have to reimburse them anything,” Ward said.

Getting a prison built at the site has been a slow process, said Doug Young, administrator with the Department of Corrections. The state has owned the land for more than a decade. In 2002, the state halted an effort to build there as prison population forecasts slowed.

This time, Young said he’s confident the project will move forward. “A prison will be built there,” Young said. “It’s a real low-risk thing.”

But the department still relies on population forecasts, Young said, which could delay the prison opening. The minimum-security prison is scheduled to open in 2014, with the opening of a maximum-security prison to follow.

JE Dunn Construction received notice of intent to award a contract for construction manager/general contractor services on the prison project. A contractor hasn’t been selected for the Junction City hospital site; Hoffman Construction will build the Salem hospital.

The Junction City community will welcome the construction jobs as well as the long-term jobs the prisons and hospital are expected to create, said John Lively, incoming president of the Lane Workforce Partnership, which helps find training for the community’s job needs.

Lane County’s unemployment is more than 14 percent, Lively said. Construction jobs can help residents in the near term, but the prison won’t open until 2013.

“The unfortunate thing from the timing standpoint is that we have high unemployment now, and that’s still four years out,” Lively said. “People can’t be on unemployment that long.”

OUR COMMENT – Advocates on behalf of persons with mental illness have opposed building a new state mental hospital, and siting it in Junction City. These advocates, former patients, friends, family members, professionals and general public, have been ignored by politicians and state bureaucrats eager for bricks and mortar.

It is base corruption to divert state moneys dedicated for the care and welfare of persons with chronic treatable illness on what this article describes – a jobs program for Lane County.

States which have engaged in policy conversation with the community about the future of mental health services are choosing to provide enhanced community based services and not rebuilding 19th century institutions; mental health treatment integrated with housing, social services, local churches, employment and vocational rehabilitation, family, addiction treatment and twelve step support.

Junction City has none of these values which are essential for recovery from mental illness.