North Carolina Central Prison Expansion: Mental Health Hospital and Medical Center

Communication Breakdown

July, 19, 2008, by Mark

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click image to begin slideshow (renderings: Schenkel Shultz)

The North Carolina Department of Corrections is building a new mental health hospital and prison medical center—an expansion on the Boylan Heights side of Central Prison. This is the second largest active construction project in downtown Raleigh. With a projected budget approaching $160 million of state tax dollars, it’s a bit of a surprise that a project of this scale and impact would be unannounced to the surrounding neighborhood. The neighborhood association, as well as property owners within feet of the prison property, were never told of the construction plans—a violation of the city’s required notification process. 

At this point workers have literally bulldozed the homeless encampment adjacent to the Montford Street bridge. They are 3/4 of the way through completely wiping out the natural vegetation and tree buffer that has existed for years between the neighborhood and the prison. Crews have also demolished the older vacant buildings that stood on the lot. Boylan Heights might have ultimately appreciated some of these changes, but neither the impact on the community nor residents’ opinions were taken into consideration. The laws that required that residents be informed about these changes were not upheld. At the very least a buffer should have been maintained during construction.

A few of the components: (totaling 365,775 square feet; for comparison the new Raleigh Convention Center is 500,000 sq ft)

* the consolidation of health care facilities within the prison system.
* 120 bed medical facility for the prison
*  220 bed state-run mental health hospital with a connector to the prison…
By size comparison the new hospital in Butner is 432 beds and the current Dix has 397

Boylan Heights residents are extremely upset. This project was essentially snuck by with no notification to residents of the neighborhood, or the general public, before construction began. However, it did go before City Council. During the site plan approval process, it was approved unanimously. The city has often discussed in its long term plans that the prison would relocate from downtown. These unexpected additions indicate otherwise. It’s here to stay.

Residents are also upset that they’re needlessly tearing down the natural buffer between the prison and the neighborhood (across the railroad tracks). The project is scheduled to be complete in 2011 or 2012 and this buffer could have helped shield the construction. Progress Energy workers at the site said that the much-discussed new substation is being built there on site adjacent to the tracks.

[UPDATED LOCATION] Boylan Heights residents have formed a committee that will discuss this issue at length during a meeting this coming Tuesday, July 22nd at 7:30pm 1300 Western Blvd, at the Central Prison Auditorium. Thomas Crowder and Mayor Meeker, as of today, have it on their calendars.

click image to begin demolition slideshow

renderings: Schenkel Shultz


Construction on the old State Penitentiary/Central Prison began in 1870 on a 22 acre piece of land purchased from the Boylan family for $200 an acre. The first prisoners were held in a pinelog structure called “The Poles” while convicts constructed the permanent structure. The fortress-like structure was designed by Ohio architect Levi Scofield, and was finally finished in 1884 to the tune of $1.25 million.
When opened, the served as North Carolina’s only maximum security prison. It also housed several industries such as a paint shop, metal sign printing facilities for license plates and road signs, a shoe repair shop, and a small mattress factory.
By the 1950’s, the structure had begun to deteriorate, so decorative pieces such as the cupolas, turrets, and spires were removed. In the 1980’s, the rest of the structure was demolished.

click to enlarge

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  • Dan R
    07/19 10:22 PM

    There is no reason why a prison should be in a residential area. This thing should have been moved to an isolated area like major prisons in every other state.

  • Aaron
    07/19 11:47 PM

    I’m definitely glad I don’t live in Boylan, however, I do feel for the residents. This project should have been shot down by city council and the other governing douches of this city. Well, it’ll make for a nice view from Bloomsbury.

  • brian_M
    07/20 02:02 AM

    lol @ comment by Aaron!

  • WiseOne
    07/20 01:21 PM

    If you believe Meeker didn’t know about this, you should vote for him again…and they will sneak the new north hills on the dix property.

  • cabarrus
    07/20 01:32 PM

    who said Meeker didn’t know about it? the problem is that it appears that he and others didn’t stand up against it.  Its really a shame.  If it had been brought to the news early on the process public opinion may have been able to sway the state legislators decision to essentially keep the prison downtown forever.  Its a little odd that the N&O;has never even mentioned this project.  This despite the fact that it involves tax dollars, mental health and is dollar and square footage wise one of the largest projects going on downtown.  Not once is it even referred to in their archives.

  • gooie
    07/20 02:14 PM

    well,at least Charles will be able to view the progress from his bedroom window

  • Aaron
    07/20 05:35 PM

    I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me someone got paid, or someone is going to get paid an amountable sum of money to keep this hush-hush. If the public was informed like it (we) should have been, there’s no way this dump would have been built. They’ll be sorry when a mentally-ill paedophilistic serial rapist escapes and strolls into Boylan Heights. Think of the children!!!

  • cabarrus
    07/20 06:00 PM

    I encourage for those concerned with the removal of the buffer and other issues to contact your state representatives.  Unfortunatley the city will has very little to do with the issue because it does fall into the states jurisdiction.  The representative for the Boylan Heights downtown area is Deborah Ross.  You can reach her via:
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    919-733-4111 (Gen. Assembly)

    Or look up your particular representative AND contact the N&O;and other media outlets.

  • smitty
    07/20 07:00 PM

    Why would the state waste millions of dollars moving a prison that has been there since before the Civil War?  Those who thought it was going to move are seriously deluded.

    More prison space is a good thing too. 

    It’s hard to feel sorry for people who live next to the thing, it’s a friggin prison.  I’m more upset about that RBC monstrosity.

  • Lea
    07/20 07:03 PM

    Well, I guess I’ll be missing the Obama HQ potluck on Tuesday night to attend that neighborhood meeting. This really, really sucks. Something does seem fishy with the silence on this project.

    - L

  • Aaron
    07/20 09:52 PM

    Fishy indeed.

  • james
    07/20 10:19 PM

    Smitty—the site has been used as a prison since the Civil War but they torn down the original prison long ago.  It’s hardly a historical landmark.  That rhetoric has more application for Dix. 

    I’m all for historical preservation but when they tore down the old prison they should’ve built the newer facilities further outside of town.  During the Civil War that location WAS outside of town.  It’s current location doesn’t make sense given the current make-up of the city. 

    The state made a mistake when they put the newer facilities there—A mistake they’re not willing to pay for by springing (perhaps a poor choice of words) for an all-new facility elsewhere.  Now they’re investing more into a poor decision.  Sadly that’s typical of their use of real estate in this city.

  • Jason M. Sullivan
    07/20 11:33 PM

    Since they broke a law, can’t a judge put a hold on construction while this is sorted out?  I hate paying lawyers as much as the next guy, but this seems like a case of money well spent.

  • cabarrus
    07/21 12:53 AM

    the thing is that they didn’t necessarily break the law… they might be above it.  Any other corporate, private, educational, municipal project would have to do so but perhaps not in this case.  We’ll see.  Common courtesy though would have been to get others involved, especially with such a high dollar tax funded project. 

    We’ve recently learned that neighborhood groups in southeast Raleigh were invited to participate in discussions with the expansion of the women’s prison.  In fact in that case the state even encouraged it an offered a portion of property to be used for a park.  At this point all we can probably do is ask them to consider maintaining the small portion of buffer is left, though I won’t be surprised if it is down by 8 AM tomorrow and/or participate in discussions on how/when to restore the buffer.  They are by law required to have one. Hopefully we’ll soon get a better idea of what they have in mind.

  • B
    07/21 03:53 AM

    I hope they install cushioned seats with cup holders. My legs fall a sleep watching the executions.

  • Rusty
    07/21 12:40 PM

    Cabarrus has a point. With State run projects they are much more concerned with DOI approval than the local municipalities. Hopefully the folks in the neighborhood will at least get a reasonably sized buffer to rectify the situation.

  • Jeff G
    07/21 01:04 PM

    From the slide show, it looks like most of the area will be parking spaces with the actual building taking up about 1/4 to 1/3 of the land on the site.  The buildings that were torn down to make way for the project were an eye-sore anyway, so no great loss there.

    I dislike that they cut down all the trees in the 20-30 yard wide area along the railroad tracks.  They should be required to restore the trees in that area.

  • Ken Metzger
    07/21 01:47 PM

    I don’t think much can be done to change the plans on this one.  The most that you could hope for is a better buffer and a more attractive front. 
    I also believe that this is a large part of the mental health plan for the state.  Overall, I like it because it should mean that the Dix Hospital is that much closer to being moved, and we are gaining mental health beds.
    I love Boylan Heights, but I do not think this will really change the neighborhood at all.  It is no more dangerous than before, because you are not housing anyone who was not in the area   already at the prison or Dix.  Does it really detract more from the neighborhood than homeless camps?

  • cabarrus
    07/21 04:22 PM

    I think the neighborhood’s goal will be to ensure that a reasonable buffer is restored, ideally one that discourages homeless encampments.  The trouble is that because the existing one has been torn down, construction noise, lighting, etc. will have that much more of an impact on adjacent property owners until the construction is complete in 2011 or 2012.

  • cj
    07/22 02:28 AM

    I hope everyone can make it out to the meeting tomorrow.  Over the course of the day the issue has received quite a bit of attention.  Representatives from the Department of Corrections, including the Central Prison warden will be on hand to give an official presentation as well as address the concerns of those in attendance.

  • EBJ
    07/22 07:07 PM

    I am sure Deborah Ross tried her best to protect her constituents in Boylean Heights.

    Her record as a supporter of umimpeded state government development in downtown Raleigh speaks volumes about Deborah’s priorities for Boylan Heights and Raleigh.

    We have had 8 years of Governor DoNothing, now

    we get 2 more years of Deborah Ross working towards being Speaker of the House.

  • Arthur
    07/22 11:14 PM

    The prison was there before all those people moved from up North to Raleigh. If they were unaware of a prison in their back yard—too bad.

  • RPW
    07/22 11:33 PM

    This is not a NEW project for DOC.  This facility has been projected for at least the past 10 years.  It has taken this long to acquire additional funds to replace the current mental health and medical facility at Central Prison.  Anyone living in that area who really thought that the prison would relocate out of downtown after all this time is looking at the situation through rose colored glasses.

  • cabarrus
    07/23 03:08 AM

    RPW, believe it or not there have been serious discussions within the last decade of the prison moving from downtown.  Multiple counties have essentially been lining up for it so it was not out of the realm of possibility and discussion.  City masterplans had even optimistically called for it to happen someday.  You are correct that this project has been in the pipeline for quite some time, as would any project of this scale and technically the buildings being built are identified as phases two and three of their master plan; however as this project required a city special use permit concerning the zoning of a portion of the site residents were not properly notified that this was about to go into construction.

  • smitty
    07/23 03:51 AM

    “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.”

    Maybe the Boylanders should get out once in awhile.

  • cabarrus
    07/23 10:57 AM

    Smitty, There was a significant communication break down.  Not everyone who should have received letters did.  It terms of Boylanders getting out more, you probably won’t find a more politically active neighborhood in town, thats why this everyone did catch many off guard.  The comment that there was a public hearing on it is a little misleading.  The project apparently did go before council as they were required to get a special use permit for the project and, as a result, the item was put on the agenda for a council meeting; however what was approved by the council had not included a detailed site plan as well as an accurate impression of the size of the new facility.  If you or RPW had heard of the project, I’d like to know how, it certainly hasn’t or hadn’t been mentioned in the media or via signage, etc.  FYI, in the event that someone changes the color of the siding on their house in a historic neighborhood, a hearing is held and signage is posted a month in advance.  In this case a 376,000 sf building (despite the fact city council approved the project as 217,807 and never received notice otherwise) is planned adjacent to that historic neighborhood and not even one sign is placed to announce a hearing.  Also would you not find it odd that only one resident was present at the hearing and that the neighborhood association was never notified for a project this large?

  • TSnow27604
    07/23 01:59 PM

    Like has been said before, I wonder how much control a city has over state owned land?  I too wish that prison was somewhere else but if it’s in good shape, I’m sure there was a lot of money saved by building the new facility on land they (the state) already owns.  Also, I wonder if there is a little quid pro quo going on here.  The city agrees not to oppose this project and in return the Dix property is sold to Raleigh.

  • Arthur
    07/23 08:58 PM

    Good point Snow. Having the prison in the city is no big deal and it could be helpfull to getting the Dix property.

  • cj
    07/23 10:25 PM

    Great historical photo!  As far as the Dix project goes, like it or not, the State has no intention of selling the property to the City.  They may consider a lease, but the current leaders in the legislature have no intention to sell.  For that matter, at that level there is also no desire to free up the property period for the next 5-7 years, even longer.  The reality is that millions are being spent to reupfit the facilities every year and a new wave of State employees will be moving in shortly.  People got word that Dix was closing and building the new hospital and the community prematurely ran with the story.

  • Mr. Prueny
    07/24 01:29 AM

    I like living next to the prison. Several reasons why. First, they keep to themselves and don’t meddle in my affairs. They boast a well kept lawn. If you listen, the loudspeaker role-call will let you know is’s time for bed. They attract international tourism with the occaisional execution. It’s easy to get in but difficult to leave (unlike my gatherings). Now it looks like it will be a place of health (executioner in check). Can I go when I feel ill, and will my homeowners insurance drop?

  • dbearhug
    07/24 11:07 AM

    One thought to throw into the mix about the prison medical system expansion is that of disappearing jobs. With Dorothea Dix moving to Central Regional Hospital in Butner, there is a large employee base that use public transit to get to work who are going to be left by the move.

    Even though the prison land might draw a good asking price, it continues a pattern of thinking favoring gentrification. This hospital is going to be a solid job base for those displaced by the Dix move and can’t make/afford the commute to Butner.

    NC state government is possibly acting more in the interests of their employees than the City of Raleigh. I may be wrong, but it’s a good talking point nonetheless.

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