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New use for old Jefferson County jail floated, defeated

August 15, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - For a moment Thursday, an idea was afloat for a new use for the old Jefferson County Jail.

But it died among concerns over what would be the best use for the property.

Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols asked the Jefferson County Commission Thursday morning to consider allowing the school district's central office to move into the jail, which some local residents have been fighting to save from the wrecking ball.

Nichols said the current central office building at 110 Mordington Ave. is beginning to show signs of wear in its electrical and plumbing systems, and probably will "wear out" in coming years.

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Nichols proposed a public and private partnership that would involve using architects to come up with a plan to renovate the jail for use by the central office.

Although Nichols said he realized the jail would require considerable work to make it usable for central office staff, he said he believes the jail and the school system would be a good match.

There has been consideration given to having the building house a museum relating either to West Virginia coal mining history or to a series of trials that were held in Charles Town in 1922 involving a labor uprising in the southern part of the state.

Because history and education go hand-in-hand, Nichols said the central office could manage the museum.

Nichols said he hoped extra parking for central office employees could be found by leasing parking space from nearby churches.

"It would be creative," Nichols said.

Commissioners Greg Corliss and Rusty Morgan supported the idea.

Corliss said having the Jefferson County Board of Education in the old jail would bring more people downtown, thus generating more business for merchants.

"It's almost perfect," Morgan said.

Commissioners Al Hooper and James G. Knode expressed concerns about the idea. Knode said the jail space is usable for such a purpose, but that the commissioners should not give the building away.

Corliss made a motion to allow school officials to move forward on the idea, but it failed by a split vote.

Corliss and Morgan voted yes and Hooper and Knode voted no. Commission President Jane Tabb did not attend Thursday's meeting.

School board member Delores Milstead, who attended the commission meeting with Nichols Thursday, said the board may bring the proposal before the commissioners again.

"We'll keep working on ideas," Nichols said.

A group of local residents say the jail at the corner of George and Liberty streets should be preserved because of its architecture and because of the miners' trials held in Charles Town in 1922.

Some of the commissioners, however, want to tear down the jail to make room for new court offices.

The commissioners recently voted to conduct a historical review of the jail, which a judge has ruled must be completed before the jail can be razed.

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