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Jail proponents not backing down

A group trying to save the old Jefferson County jail from the wrecking ball will hold a press conference and rally Saturday

A group trying to save the old Jefferson County jail from the wrecking ball will hold a press conference and rally Saturday

March 11, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Despite the fact that the Jefferson County Commission has voted to tear down the old Jefferson County Jail, an organization that has been fighting to save the building will hold a rally Saturday in another attempt to save the 85-year-old landmark.

The event, which will start at 1 p.m. at the Old Opera House, will include presentations by two groups that have conducted independent architectural studies of the jail, said Carol Gallant, president of Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save Our Heritage.

The presentations from the National Trust for Historic Places and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia will include estimates on how much it would cost to convert the jail for new uses, said Gallant.

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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 that were held here in 1922 for coal miners involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia.

Commissioner James G. Knode has said he understands why some 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 has said.

Gallant declined to comment on what the historical groups might say Saturday.

The groups will present their findings during a press conference that's likely to have "a few surprises," according to a press release announcing the event.

"I tried to stay out of it. These are really independent experts," Gallant said Sunday.

Also at Saturday's event, a group of coal miners will talk about issues related to the Battle of Blair Mountain, Gallant said.

After the press conference, there will be a "Save the Jail Rally" across the street at the jail. Music will be provided by Allegheny Uprising.

Gallant, along with local resident Jim Whipple, appealed a Jefferson County Circuit Court decision that allowed the demolition of the jail.

Since the state Supreme Court of Appeals recently made a decision in the case, lawyers representing both sides have given different interpretations on how the commission can proceed.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson told the commissioners they can proceed with the demolition by taking another vote on the issue.

The commission first voted to demolish the jail in December 2000, Gallant's group said.

On Feb. 6, the commissioners tackled the issue again, voting 3-2 to tear down the jail.

Commission President Jane Tabb has said the commissioners need to go to Circuit Court to request lifting an injunction that temporarily halted demolition.

There is also debate on whether the commissioners have to conduct a historical review of the building, which involves exploring other possible uses of the jail.

Gallant believes the review is required while Knode said Sunday he believes it is not.

Gallant said the historical review process involves getting input from the public about a historical structure.

Gallant said one of the reasons the rally is being held Saturday is to provide members of the public with facts about the jail.

Knode said Thompson is expected to appear before Circuit Court Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. soon to inquire about the historical review process.

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