As tunnels go, it’s not the Chunnel – the $21 billion, 31-mile, underwater tunnel between France and England – but Guilford County’s less impressive tunnel from the old jail to the Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro is big source of consternation for county officials right now.
Many county leaders want to tear down the old jail but they say that would almost certainly mean the destruction of the tunnel that’s used to transfer inmates from the new jail to court and back. Sheriff’s Department officials maintain that the tunnel, which runs under South Eugene Street, plays a vital role in keeping those inmate transfers safe, secure and manageable. They say having the tunnel helps prevent escapes and increases public safety.
But it’s not clear if the old jail can be demolished and the tunnel maintained.
In 2012, Guilford County opened its new jail next to the old jail and now inmates who have court appearances are taken through a secure walkway from the new jail into the old jail and then through the tunnel. While Sheriff’s Department officials who oversee the process say the county must keep the tunnel operational, county commissioners say it may not be possible.
Chairman of the Guilford County the Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said this week that the tunnel might be on its last legs.
“It’s unfortunate,” Branson said. “How can we save that tunnel while demolishing the building? I’m not 100 percent sure we can.”
Branson said the county is exploring ways that to keep it intact during the demolition process but he’s not sure that’s a viable alternative. He said he also wonders whether the tunnel is needed as much now as it has been in the past.
“How many people walk through that tunnel?” he said, adding that more and more the court system is using video appearances.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said the tunnel is used heavily and is vital. He said modern technology hasn’t changed that since inmates have to appear in person every day that court is in session.
“It’s very important,” he said of the tunnel. “It’s always going to be important. It’s a security issue given the number of folks we bring through there.”
Barnes said that it might be possible to construct a secure “air walkway” over Eugene Street to serve the same purpose.