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County officials weigh plan to save old jail

April 05, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The president of the Jefferson County Commission has come up with a plan to save the old Jefferson County Jail, but there is still debate over the issue, even from those in favor of saving the building.

Last year, County Commission President Al Hooper, along with Commissioners Jane Tabb and James G. Knode, voted to demolish the 85-year-old jail at the corner of George and Liberty streets.

The vote followed an effort that had been under way since 2000 to tear down the jail to make room for new offices.


Although Hooper said Sunday that he feels tearing down the jail is the best way to go, "I can make it work using the jail."

Hooper's plan calls for tearing down existing county office buildings between the Jefferson County Courthouse and the County Commission office building, also referred to as the Hunter House, at the corner of Washington and Samuel streets.

The buildings left standing under the plan would be Hunter House, the old jail and the courthouse.

Hooper said at one point when he presented the plan, Carol Gallant, president of Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save Our Heritage, did not have a problem with it.

Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save Our Heritage is an organization formed to save the jail.

Gallant said Sunday she has reservations about Hooper's proposal. Before making any comment about it, she said she would like to know more information about the commission's need for additional space. Gallant said she wants the commission to explore the possibility of using other buildings in the city for the county's space needs.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan also has concerns about Hooper's plan, even though Morgan voted against razing the jail.

Under Hooper's plan, the removal of the county office buildings between Hunter House and the courthouse would occur first, Morgan said.

Then, the commission would have to find new locations for those offices, which could be costly, Morgan said.

And it would be confusing to the public, he said.

Morgan prefers a plan that includes building new office space along Liberty Street.

"There's more than one way to go about this," Morgan said.

Although the commissioners have voted to tear down the jail, they could approve Hooper's building plan that saves the jail, Tabb said.

Despite that possibility, Tabb said she still is convinced that tearing down the jail is the best option for meeting the county's space needs.

Knode said he probably would not support Hooper's plan.

Another issue that has been thrown into the mix is a resolution in favor of saving the jail, which was recently approved by the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Because of the jail's history relating to the treason trials that were held for a group of coal miners in 1922 in Charles Town, the resolution urges the commissioners to "seriously consider the value of this structure."

Hooper said the resolution had no influence on his proposal.

"I had done my studies long before that came out," Hooper said.

Knode said he thinks the House resolution contains false information.

The resolution says the jail is where William Blizzard, referred to as the "miner's general" was held during the treason trials. Knode said he is not convinced that is true.

The commissioners agreed to have a firm known as DASA Architects of Charlottesville, Va., conduct a historical review on the jail.

The review, which will take four to six months to complete, is expected to gauge the value of the building, Hooper said.

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