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Commission OKs historical review for former jail

August 01, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Reversing an earlier opinion, Jefferson County Commissioner James G. Knode said Thursday that a historical review should be done on the old jail in Charles Town.

In June, Knode voted against the review, which opponents say is nothing more than a veiled attempt to demolish the building.

With Knode's change of mind, a motion to do the review passed by a 3-2 vote at the commission's meeting Thursday morning.

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"It's another motion to tear down the old jail," said Commissioner Greg Corliss, who voted against the review. "We already know the jail is historic. We're really considering the ruin of an edifice" that could be important to the future of Charles Town, he said.

Corliss said he also opposes the review because nobody knows how much it will cost. Spending taxpayer money on it is not wise, he said.

Circuit Judge Thomas Steptoe previously ruled that the jail cannot be torn down until a review is done, to prove no other use for the building exists.

Bids will be solicited for the review and the company that wins the contract will follow guidelines established by the state Division of Culture and History, said Commission President Jane Tabb. As part of the review, input from the public will be sought.

Tabb, who advocates tearing down the jail, said most people in the county agree the jail should be demolished.

A historical review should determine the fate of the building. Whether the jail should be demolished has been a source of controversy for years. Opponents say the jail - which housed the coal miners who stood trial in 1922 after a labor uprising in southern West Virginia - is historic and should be saved.

Proponents of demolition argue that tearing down the jail will open up space that can be used for ever-growing county operations.

Before the review is done, Commissioner Rusty Morgan said a group of volunteers would like to clean up the building, which he said has been "a dumping site" for years.

County Administrator Leslie Smith said the building's contents could be hauled to a landfill.

Commissioner Al Hooper questioned whether allowing people in the building could create a liability for the county.

No action was taken on whether the volunteer clean-up crews can enter the jail, which is on the corner of George and Liberty streets.

Commissioners initially voted to tear down the jail in November 2000. On Feb. 6, after an election changed the makeup of the commission, demolition also was approved.

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