Neighbors decry new Central Prison hospital
Posted July 22, 2008 1:15 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2008 11:42 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Residents of the Boylan Heights neighborhood voiced their displeasure Tuesday over a hospital and a mental health facility being built at nearby Central Prison.
Construction on the $151 million project, which will include 336 beds, began over the weekend, and residents said crews removed a number of trees that provided a buffer between the maximum-security prison and the neighborhood.
"We hope to be able to save desperately the remaining portion of tree buffer," said Chris Johnson, a member of the Boylan Heights Neighborhood Association.
The project has been in the design phase for several years and was approved as part of last year's state budget. The city held a public hearing on the site plan for the project last year, but residents now complain they had little notice about the construction.
"Our opinion is that it was kept a secret ... from the citizens of Raleigh and the state," Johnson said. "We would have hoped the City Council or elected officials would have notified us."
Mayor Charles Meeker, who lives in Boylan Heights, said the city was aware of the planned construction at Central Prison and said the state Department of Correction should have briefed residents about its plans.
"Naturally, I'm concerned that people are upset about it," Meeker said.
DOC officials met Tuesday night with residents to discuss their concerns, and spokesman Keith Acree said more trees will eventually be planted to replace those cleared during construction.
"Once they see what we're putting back here, I think they're going to be pretty happy. It's going to be a vast improvement over what was here before," Acree said of the planned landscaping.
The new buildings will replace outdated health facilities that totaled 230 beds. They also will allow some procedures to be done at the prison – the hospital will include three operating rooms – so correction officers don't have to transport prisoners to area hospitals for treatment.
Construction is scheduled for completion in 2013. Acree said crews are building atop a former quarry from which the prison's original rock wall was carved, so extensive foundation work is needed.
Once the new facilities open, he said, the former hospital will be razed and the former mental health facility will be renovated and turned into general population cells.