County delays decision on old jail, sheriff's house

A vote on whether the Cole County Commission should demolish the old County Jail and Sheriff’s House has been moved to April 16.

Commissioners said they wanted to keep the ball rolling and not take a long time to make a decision.

Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said he wasn’t ready to make a final decision Wednesday on what to do with the two structures.

“Once they’re gone, we can’t get them back,” he said. “I may still have some

questions when we bring this back for a vote, but I want to make sure we’ve looked at every option.”

Members of the Historic City of Jefferson and other residents have contacted commissioners, telling them the two buildings should be saved.

“Both of these buildings were put on the National Register of Historic Places and both were built as part of the public works program instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt,” said Steve Veile, president of Historic City of Jefferson.

Veile also pointed out the city had designated the buildings as historic. Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger acknowledged that, but said the commission didn’t formally accept that designation and never put up the plaque that comes with that designation on either of those buildings.

Veile responded: “We know the county needs more space, but adaptive reuse we feel is the best way to go, and the plan you have been presented costs less than tearing down both buildings.”

Ellinger asked Veile if they gutted the buildings for office space would the buildings still be considered historic.

“We know that you need the space, but if you can keep the shell it would be best,” Veile said.

“When I go to a place like the old state prison, I think the history is more about what is on the inside of the structure,” Ellinger said.

The plan to keep the existing shell of the jail and sheriff’s house in place would 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.

Ellinger said adaptive reuse is not the way to go and there was one main reason.

“The driver behind this is a large courtroom,” he said. “The architects have said if you keep the shell of the buildings then you can’t have the large courtroom. Tearing down and building is the only way to allow this. The other option is to leave them as they are and not do anything at all. Courtroom space is what we need. Not having the courtroom space is no benefit to just renovate for office space.”

The plan to tear down the two structures and replace them 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.

Veile encouraged commissioners to take time before making a final decision and get with others who have worked with restoring older structures in town and made them usable.

“I think there’s a misconception of what our options are,” said Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle. “The new courtroom we need couldn’t work in the adaptive use plan, and even if we did go with adaptive use, I don’t know if it will meet our office needs that could take us down the road another 20 years.”

The commission plans to visit next week with officials from Architects Alliance, who have been developing plans for the commission on these two buildings, as well as court officials about what their needs are and if it is possible they could be met in the shell of the two buildings.

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