OREGON – Jerry Virgil has lived in his house on Jefferson Street for 45 years.
Over those years he has put his “blood, sweat and tears” into working on the house, making it a warm, welcoming home of wood, brick and stone.
And soon, he could have a new jail as his closest neighbor.
“In a way, I understand where they are coming from,” he said of the county's jail proposal during a recent interview in the cozy living room of his house. “Do I like it? No. When they first said it I was really upset about it.”
While the proposed new jail that would be built west of the Ogle County Judicial Center on 6th Street is just that – a proposal – Virgil said he thinks it will become a reality. And he certainly saw it coming when the county started buying up the homes of his neighbors.
“I told my wife, 'they aren't just buying those to buy them,'” he said. “They had a plan in mind.”
The county did have a plan, which has been presented to residents and continues to move forward in the planning process. The $25 million plan includes closing a portion of 6th Street and building a new jail and connecting it to the Judicial Center with a sallyport.
Virgil's main concern was that if the county did build the jail, his property values would plummet. As anyone would, he wondered who would want to buy a house with a jail next door?
In March, the County Board approved funds to have the homes near the proposed jail appraised, including Virgil's. He said he talked with County Board Chairman Kim Gouker, who told him the county would buy his home for the appraisal amount. The appraisal would not take the proposed jail into account.
Virgil, who retired after 43 years as production manager with the Village of Progress, said it seemed to him that the county was willing to work with homeowners, and that was a relief.
“That took a load off my mind,” he said.
County Board Member Ron Colson said the county wants everybody to have a “comfort level” with what the procedure will be, and that area homeowners will be contacted about the appraisals and offer to buy their properties.
“We put that before the whole County Board and agreed that's the process,” he said.
The county has sent mailings on the proposal and has held meetings across the county to get the input of residents, Colson said. Not everyone is in favor of the jail, but Colson said people “overwhelmingly” did like the design plan.
Those people do not include Virgil's neighbors.
“Most of them aren't too happy about it,” he said.
They worry about the inconvenience of the street closing, traffic, safety and even the idea of a new jail being built in downtown Oregon.
He said parking is another concern. With nearby churches, a funeral home and the Judicial Center, Virgil said parking could be a big problem.
Colson said looking at parking will be a part of the planning process.
“I think that can be addressed,” he said.
The proposed jail, which would house between 180 and 200 prisoners, has not had final approval.