BIG PINE KEY, FL – Monroe County Mayor George Neugent, County Administrator Roman Gastesi and County senior management staff recently toured the vacant, state-owned Big Pine Key Road Prison to explore possible County uses for the 10-acre site.
The prison opened in the 1950s and once had housed inmates who had committed violent crimes. In recent decades, the facility on Key Deer Boulevard has been a minimum-security facility, home to 60 or so inmates who worked on road crews that maintained the Overseas Highway. In April, citing costly needed infrastructure improvements, the State of Florida shuttered the prison for good. Now, only Key deer roam the grassy grounds.
The state has said it has no use for the property and already has taken everything of value – from cooking equipment, bunks, the basketball hoop and even a drinking fountain – and boarded up the buildings. The 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.
“We’re exploring our options,” County Administrator Gastesi said. “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 these options 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, offices for the District 2 County Commissioner and the tax collector, and satellite offices for code compliance and building.
“We’re paying rent for the Commissioner’s office and tax collector, so this could save money in the long-term,” Gastesi said.
County Staff on the tour included Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson, interim Project Management Director Cary Knight, Solid Waste and Recycling Director Will Thompson, Planning Director Mayte Santamaria and County Attorney Bob Shillinger. They walked the grounds to see the layout and condition of the buildings.
Former Big Pine Key corrections officer Cody Moeller, who supervised inmate road crews, guided the tour. He showed the group the cafeteria, bunkroom, shower area, murals painted by the inmates, banana plants, recreation area and the grave of a beloved cat, Keffey.
“We did not carry guns,” Moeller said. “Only pepper spray, a radio and handcuffs. I’m going to miss this place.