Lyon discusses converting former prison into school |

Lyon discusses converting former prison into school

Dave Frank
Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal

Two Lyon County commissioners hope to convert a closed women’s prison into a vocational high school despite opposition from the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Larry McPherson and Don Tibbals say the Silver Springs Conservation Camp and adjoining land represent an ideal location for a school offering instruction in carpentry, welding and other trades.

“It’s not political, what we want,” Tibbals said. “It’s for the betterment and education of the kids.”

The commissioners say they want to work with Gov. Jim Gibbons, chairman of the state corrections board, to transfer the 40 acres of prison land from the Nevada Division of Lands to Lyon County.

The corrections department closed the 150-bed minimum-security women’s prison in July. The department transferred the women to the Jean Conservation Camp in Clark County. The Silver Springs prison, which opened in 1991, was about half full before it closed.

The commissioners haven’t decided exactly how the school will be funded or operated. McPherson said the most important thing is obtaining the land so the county can figure out the details of running the school.

“Where the county is concerned at this point is getting the money to buy this,” he said. “It’s a damn good investment, even if we don’t do anything with it for the next few years.”

The corrections department has no plans to reopen the prison and currently does not have the money to do so, said Suzanne Pardee, a department representative.

But the department considers the closure temporary, she said. It has budgeted $82,000 for the next two years to maintain the prison.

The department has not decided under what conditions the prison would reopen, she said.

“Until inmate numbers increase and monies are available, the camp will remain closed,” she said in a statement.

‘They don’t know beans’

The state might have violated the terms of the deed for the prison land and this could help Lyon County.

The deed says the land can only be used as a women’s conservation camp. The deed also says the state should give back the water rights for the prison to John and Pauline Holmes, who donated the land, if the state stops using the land for a women’s conservation camp.

The deed does not specify what, if anything, should happen to the land if the state stops operating the camp.

John Holmes said he agrees with the commissioners that the land should be used for a vocational high school. He said he will agree to change the deed to allow Lyon County to operate a school if the state allows it. In addition, Holmes said he’s willing to go to court to reclaim the land so a school can be developed. He said the corrections department violated the terms of the deed.

The county also wants to use his adjoining 40-acre ranch for the school. He said he would sell it for about $1.5 million if it was used for the school.

He said he’s thinking about the future of the county’s students.

“If they’re not going to college, they don’t know beans unless their parents taught them,” he said.

The right land

James Lawrence, state division of lands administrator, said the corrections department has honored the deed by never using the donated land for anything other than a women’s prison. It is a legal issue whether the department violated the deed by ceasing to use the land as a prison, he said.

The Holmeses do have a clear right under the deed to request the water rights for the prison land, he said.

“Certainly we want to honor the deed, and certainly we want to cooperate,” he said.

Dan Burns, a representative for Gibbons, said he doesn’t know if the governor or anyone on his staff has looked at the issue.

The Lyon County School District would be “very interested” in the land if it was available for a vocational school, said Superintendent Caroline McIntosh.

She said the district wants to expand its career and technical education classes. More classes like this at a new vocational school could help students learn, stay in school and prepare for a career, McIntosh said.

“You can believe we’d be all about that,” she said.