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Corliss wants to delay jail vote

December 27, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commissioner-elect Greg Corliss says he will ask the commission on Monday to delay a possible vote on demolishing the old county jail to give a local preservation group time to come up with an alternative plan for the building.

The commissioners are expected to discuss the old jail building in a meeting Monday, but the commissioners said Thursday it is unclear whether they will vote to demolish the building.

Corliss said Thursday he believes any action to demolish the old jail at the corner of George and Liberty streets should be delayed for six months to give the Jefferson County Alliance to Save Our Heritage time to come up with an alternative plan for the building.

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The historical preservation group has been leading the effort to save the jail.

Corliss said he hopes the commissioners will be influenced by the "peace and forgiveness" of the holiday season and delay any vote on the jail.

The possible demolition of the jail has generated controversy among the commissioners and a group of residents who want to save it.

The commissioners want to tear down the jail and erect new court offices, but those who want to save it say it should be preserved because of its architecture and because of a series of trials held here in 1922 for miners involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia.

Local residents Carol Gallant and Jim Whipple appealed to the state Supreme Court of Appeals a Jefferson County Circuit Court decision that allowed demolition of the jail.

Since the high court made its decision recently, lawyers representing both sides have given different interpretations on how the commission can proceed.

The commissioners have been told they can proceed with the demolition by taking another vote on the issue. They initially voted to tear down the jail in November 2000.

Attorney Tom Michael, who represents Gallant and Whipple, said he does not believe the commissioners cannot repeat their vote to tear down the jail.

Commissioner James G. Knode said Thursday he believes the commission will be interested in hearing Monday what others think about demolishing the jail.

Whether the discussion will lead to a vote is unclear, said Commission President James K. Ruland.

"I think we'll just take it as it comes," Ruland said.

"It's just one of those subjects that I don't know where it will end up," said Commissioner Jane Tabb.

Corliss said he does not want to see the county spend more money on the building. He is interested in the possibility of the county leasing the jail to a historic preservation group and letting them manage it and come up with money to renovate it.

"There's money out there in terms of grants and institutions," Corliss said.

Knode said he could understand why people would question demolishing the building, given how solid it seems.

But closer examination reveals that the cost of retrofitting the jail for public use is "far in excess" of the cost of building new offices, Knode said.

One problem is the design of the building, which does not allow for easy installation of heating ductwork and new wiring, Knode said.

Gallant said she plans to attend Monday's meeting but does not plan to speak.

"I think we have demonstrated there is public support (for saving the jail) out there," Gallant said.

Groups like the United Mine Workers, the West Virginia Preservation Alliance, the National Register of Historic Places and other groups have agreed the jail should be saved, Gallant said.

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