2011-02-03 / Front Page

Citizens Speak Out To Save County Jail

Ask commissioners to reconsider razing jail
By Lindsay R. Mellott
STAFF WRITER

Three McConnellsburg area men unhappy with the county’s recent decision to abandon a renovation of its mid-19thcentury jailhouse and raze it to build a new jail in its place met with the county commissioners on Tuesday morning to voice their concerns.

Dick Miller, president of the Fulton County Historical Society, told commissioners Bonnie Mellott Keefer, David Hoover and Craig Cutchall that he and Glenn Cordell, onetime administrator of the Historical Society and longtime society member, and Andy Washabaugh, society life member and McConnellsburg property owner, came to ask questions about the new direction the jailhouse project was taking and to give their input.

Although all three men belong to the county Historical Society, they said they were not speaking on the society’s behalf.

The county’s plan to renovate the jail was given up just a few weeks ago after the commissioners were informed by contractors that the building was not structurally sound to complete the upgrades as planned. Those upgrades included a new roof, a second story walkway to the courthouse that has already been built and hooking up to a newly installed county complex geothermal heating system. Mold in the building is also an issue.

Commissioner Chairman Mellott Keefer characterized the upgrades as “just repairs, minimal” but said the commissioners did not know their exact cost since they were lumped in with the overall cost of the entire county complex renovation project.

Since learning of the jail’s structural problems, however, the county has had no estimate made of what it would now cost to go ahead with the roof replacement and geothermal hookup. And, the commissioners also say that the jail has other issues too, such as unsafe wiring and uneven floors, that make it a lessthan ideal place for county employees to work.

The jail houses the sheriff’s office, and a plan to use the second floor for county office space is in place, although the commissioners could not say at this time what those offices would be.

Commissioner Hoover told the three men that if the county went ahead with the minimal renovations, it would make sense to do everything else that should be done to the building at the same time. The commissioners believe, however, that to address all the building’s health, safety and security issues while keeping its historical integrity intact is too cost-prohibitive and they also say it would take too long.

A new jail, according to Mellott Keefer, is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $550,000. The commissioner chairman said that the county will not spend anymore than the estimated cost to build a new jail.

Calling the jail a significant historical building, Cordell noted the considerable sacrifice people made when they donated private money (as required by law) to build public buildings, the courthouse and jailhouse, when Fulton County was established in 1850.

“I don’t think the building (jail) is second rate. It’s a solid building,” said Cordell, who urged the commissioners to consider doing the planned minimal upgrades and phasing in other renovations and improvements over time. “Think about it before you act. Don’t make the mistake of tearing the building down,” he said.

Washabaugh, who has renovated several 19th-century structures in Mc- Connellsburg, said that renovating the jail can be done. “It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “Fulton County needs every single historic building it has, whether it’s in McConnellsburg, Hustontown or Warfordsburg.”

As originally conceived, the county complex renovation called for the razing of the old jail, but the commissioners changed their minds after hundreds of county residents signed petitions to save the building. Since announcing their plans to go ahead and raze the building afterall, the commissioners say no one has expressed any opposition to the plan. Hoover said that at townhall meetings held regularly throughout the county, most people have said to tear the jail down.

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