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Sylva police department to find new home on Main Street

A dire space crunch for Sylva’s police officers has been solved.

Jackson County will give the old library building on Main Street to the town for a new police department. In return, Sylva will give the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.

“One hand washes the other,” Commissioner Charles Elder said in summing up the deal. “Maybe some people will think we are giving too much for a lot less from the town, but it’s not just for (Sylva’s) benefit.”

The old public library has an appraised tax value of $796,000; the former chamber of commerce building was valued at $157,560. County commissioners met with town board members Monday to discuss the trade and voted unanimously to make the deal. Commissioner Joe Cowan was absent.

Town police are strapped for space in the current police department on Allen Street. Fourteen full-time officers (soon to be 15) and three auxiliary officers share just 1,000 square feet. The old library is 6,400 square feet in size.

“We’re not trading apples for apples, I recognize that,” Commissioner Mark Jones said before endorsing the deal as ultimately beneficial to both parties involved. “Let’s help each other out.”

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Commissioner Doug Cody said he had some reservations, primarily because he’d prefer to see more retail business on Main Street.

“But I think we can probably work things out since we don’t have anyone beating our doors down to get that building,” Cody said.

County Manager Chuck Wooten confirmed Jackson County hasn’t received any inquiries from anyone interested in buying the old building. The library in June moved to a new location at the historic courthouse overlooking Main Street.

“We need the space, bad,” said Harold Hensley, a Sylva town council member, who added that the swap would also be good for the town and county’s overall relationship.

Chris Matheson, a former district attorney who sits on the town board, confirmed that prisoners would not be detained in that building. As takes place currently, any prisoners detained by police will be transported immediately to the county jail at the administration building, she said.

Matheson said Sylva merchants have repeatedly requested a greater presence on Main Street by town police. In addition to the prospect of now having the department located physically there, council members also decided recently to hire a new police officer assigned to foot patrols downtown.

Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower, in a follow-up interview after the workshop, said there are already rough blueprints drafted for how the new police department would be built. She said the town’s public works department, also currently strapped for space, would probably move into the vacated police department.

Police Chief Davis Woodard described he and his officers as “just tickled,” and emphasized his gratitude for the united backing of town commissioners in helping the police department gain more space.

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