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Let new group eye jail demolition plan

December 03, 2002

Should the Jefferson County, W.Va., Commissioners delay demolishing the old county jail and give the newly elected commission a chance to consider the issue? They should, but the review process should be quick and efficient.

The commissioners got approval to demolish the old jail on Nov. 27 from the West Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the legislature was within its rights when it enacted a bill to exempt county governments from doing a review before demolishing a building identified as historic.

That would seem to seal the old jail's fate, but on Nov. 5, the commission's membership changed with the election of Rusty Morgan and Greg Corliss. Corliss has asked the current commission to defer the demolition decision until the new group takes office.

It's unclear whether there's time for the current commission to act on the matter, since an issue that's been before the Supreme Court is usually delayed for 30 days, according to Commissioner James G. Knode.

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Timing issues aside, we support a review for several reasons. The first is that the new commissioners, who will have to vote on contracts for the demolition and new construction should have information on whether new offices and parking can be built without tearing down the jail, and at what cost.

The Charles Town city government should also have an opportunity to provide information on how it could utilize the renovated jail building as part of its emphasis on historic preservation.

And as Corliss said, citizens should be able to hear the alternatives and express opinions on them, which may or may not be good for the forces of preservation.

If citizens hear the facts and then decide the old jail isn't worth saving, then it will be hard to argue that the will of the people should be ignored. If the commissioners have a good argument for demolition, let them make it, then allow citizens to decide.

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