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Uses for closed Big Pine prison property in the works

County officials tour the closed Big Pine Key Road Prison’s boarded-up administration office.
County officials tour the closed Big Pine Key Road Prison’s boarded-up administration office.

The mention of a vacant prison brings to mind dark hallways, empty cells and even spooky tales of the past.

But that’s not the case with the now-closed Big Pine Key Road Prison where, up until its closing in April, guards didn’t even carry guns.

“Only pepper spray, a radio and handcuffs. I’m going to miss this place,” former corrections officer Cody Moeller said to Monroe County officials on a recent tour of the prison.

Moeller used to supervise inmate road crews who served time at the minimum-security facility and were charged with maintaining U.S. 1.

He showed county Mayor George Neugent, County Administrator Roman Gastesi and others the cafeteria, bunk room, shower area, murals painted by inmates, banana plants, a recreation area and the grave of a cat named Keffey, county information officer Cammy Clark said.

Alternative uses for the 10-acre property are in the works, she said.

The prison opened in the 1950s and once housed inmates who had committed violent crimes, but in recent decades, the facility on Key Deer Boulevard had been a minimum-security prison. It was home to 60 or so inmates who were all relocated to mainland facilities when the prison closed. Citing the need for costly infrastructure improvements, the state shuttered the prison for good.

Clark said the state has no use for the property and already has taken everything of value like cooking equipment, bunks, the basketball hoop and even a drinking fountain, and boarded up the buildings. The state Department of Transportation, which leases the property, has said it also no longer has a need for the property and wants out of the lease, Clark said.

Gastesi said options for the closed prison could include an expanded Big Pine Key library; a storage facility and work area for county Public Works; more parking for the nearby county Senior Center; and offices for the District 2 county commissioner and the tax collector, and satellite offices for code compliance and building.

“It is an interesting property in a great location. There is potential for the county to use the property to provide better services to the community of Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys,” Gastesi said. “We’re paying rent for the commissioner’s office and tax collector, so this could save money in the long-term.”

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

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