TIFTON - Turner County and state officials broke ground on a detention center Thursday just south of Sycamore, hailing the facility as an economic boon for the entire county.

"We've had so many great things happen in this community recently, but this is the biggest and the best," Ashburn-Turner County Chamber of Commerce President Shelley Zorn said.

"We're so proud to have these good-paying state jobs with benefits. It will be a big boost for the county."

Zorn, Sycamore Mayor Wayne Woodruff, Sen. Rooney Bowen, Rep. Austin Scott, former Rep. Ray Holland, Ashburn Mayor Bob Hunnicutt, Turner County Commission Chairman Darrell Hall, Sycamore Councilman Leon James and Assistant Department of Corrections Commissioner Joe Ferrero all spoke briefly before turning the first shovels of dirt.

The detention center is expected to cost about $2.8 million to build and will house 200 probationers, said Ferrero. It will create approximately 60 jobs.

"Basically, this will be a work camp, with substance abuse programs and counseling," Ferrero said.

Most probationers serve their terms outside institutions, reporting regularly to a probation officer. Ferrero said the Sycamore facility is geared toward cases "where the judge wants to get somebody's attention" or when someone has violated the conditions of regular probation.

The probationers, from around the region, will typically serve from three to nine months at the facility, said Ferrero.

"This is going to be a bigger and bigger part of our operation," he noted. "We've got four that we're building right now and another four that we're just getting started on."

Woodruff, who said the groundbreaking was "probably one of the greatest days I've seen since taking office," praised Holland as the one who brought the facility to Turner County.

"I can't say enough about this man," said Woodruff. "He's been our right arm, and he's responsible, with his colleagues, for what you're going to see here."

Holland recalled how the Sycamore delegation turned up at the state capitol on the last day of a legislative session, as he was preparing for a long, busy day.

"I rounded a corner, and there was the delegation from Sycamore," said Holland. "They said, 'We've come to get a correctional facility.' ... We sat them in the anteroom, and the Department of Corrections came and talked to them. We'd talked about doing something with corrections in Turner County before, but they brought it back to the head of the discussion again, and that's what really got the ball rolling."

Holland thanked former Appropriations Chairman Terry Coleman for his role in funding the project, as well as former Gov. Roy Barnes.

"For Turner County, obviously, this is going to bring the kind of jobs we're looking for," he said. "I think a lot of people had a feeling it might not happen ... Well, it's happening today."

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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