County delays vote on tearing down old jail, house

The Cole County Commission has delayed a vote on whether to tear down the old county jail and sheriff’s house behind the county courthouse.

At the commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners agreed to wait on a final decision until March 5 to allow time for other options to be explored. The decision to delay came after members of the Historic City of Jefferson spoke against demolishing the old buildings and urging the commission to look at adaptive reuse.

Last week, commissioners heard two options about how to use the old jail and sheriff’s house for space needed by the county. One plan would call for the remodeled sallyport to be left on the ground floor and the three floors above it torn down and rebuilt, which would cost approximately $1.6 million. There would be 4,700 square feet of court/office space available with this plan and 700 square feet for a lobby.

The other plan would keep the existing shell of the jail and sheriff’s house in place, fix the three floors above the sallyport and develop a plan to access each floor since the floors in the old jail do not align with the courthouse. This plan would cost approximately $775,000 and offers 3,300 square feet of court/office space and 600 square feet for a lobby.

Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger and Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher both said they prefer the option to tear down the two buildings because it’s the only option that would allow for the addition of a second large courtroom.

Ellinger said the county’s four courtrooms are full and they need to add a second large courtroom for bigger trials, which is only possible if the existing structures are torn down.

“In all honesty, we have the money to do either plan,” Ellinger said. “Do we solve our space problem or not? We need the courtroom space. That’s the driver.”

Ellinger added the plan also would create a handicap-accessible entrance to the courthouse.

But Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle suggested looking at other options, specifically the opportunity to acquire properties near the current courthouse and county offices. That would enable the county to expand into those facilities and ease overcrowding of multiple offices, Scheperle said.

“I think this is a Band-Aid to our bigger problem,” Sheperle said.”We’re being shortsighted, and we should look at some other options.”

The commission will continue the discussion about whether to tear down the old jail and sheriff’s house March 5.

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