Historic jail reveals promising research

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


Consultant Robert Vogel had good news, of sorts, for the Houston County Board at their June 4 meeting. Vogel was hired in early May to produce a historic structure report on the old jail, which is currently vacant.

The report will allow the county to apply for grants to pay for more detailed research on possible re-uses for the Victorian Gothic building.

“Every time we look at that building it looks better and better to us,” Vogel said. “We found a set of plans from the 1970s remodeling, which gives some information. It was constructed in 1875 and we will probably never find the original plans for the structure – they probably walked away and are above someone’s fireplace thousands of miles away – but we did find a 2005 engineering study, and the urban legend that the cells somehow hold the building together is a fallacy.”

Vogel said his final report will define what we know and what we don’t know about the structure and give a short list of the preferred outcomes from a historic preservation viewpoint.

This first report will allow the county to apply for grant money to further explore re-use options.

So, the good news is the building is in pretty good condition, including the roof. The not so good news is the county must eventually decide and commit to a course of action.

“One question that hasn’t been addressed by the board is how much time will you give to: does it live or does it die,” Vogel said, suggesting that at some point the county must choose to move full steam ahead with adapting the structure to some sort of modern need or demolish it.

“One of the strings is legacy funding (state grant money used for historic preservation projects) is to finance things that will last forever and you haven’t committed either way.

“The idea of giving yourself a specific time period to assemble and analyze is a good idea,” he said.

Vogel’s final comments were somewhat unexpected. He said the jail is in better shape than previously thought. “It’s major shortcoming is accessibility, which would have been a $200,000 solution and not a $20 million solution.”

“Where were you five years ago,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt said in reference to the time when the county began talks on building the new justice center.

During a separate section of the meeting Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked Human Resource Director Tess Arrick-Kruger if she knew how much money had been spent on the justice center post construction for items such as elevator upkeep, generators, equipment and service agreements.

Arrick-Kruger said she did not readily have a figure available, adding, “Many of the expenses were foreseeable, and many of the items that have been brought to you are standard with a facility of that type and size.”

She said she can certainly work with the county’s finance director to try and calculate a running tally.

Whatever the figure another $2,700 will be added to it for the purchase of two boiler mufflers, as approved by the board on that day.