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What to do with the old jail, and the bank?

There is an old saying, “The wheels of justice turn slowly.” We have come to know that to be true in most instances, especially when serious matters are concerned.
There is also the old adage, “The wheels of government turn slowly.” And we have certainly witnessed that many times.
Harrison Countians have been waiting patiently since 1996, when the modern Justice Center opened in west Corydon, and the iron bars in the old, downtown jail clanged shut for the last time. The responsibility for deciding what to do with that building lies squarely on the shoulders of the three-member Harrison County Board of Commissioners. Once those guys decide what to do with the red brick building (which, incidentally, fits in well architecturally with the rest of the downtown — it certainly doesn’t look decrepit on the outside), then it becomes the responsibility of the seven-member Harrison County Council to decide whether to spend our money on the project.
That process represents the balance of power between the elected governing bodies.
As the unofficial, behind-the-scene story goes, when preparations were underway to close the jail, one of the commissioners went to the bank next door and asked: “Would you guys be interested in buying this jail building?”
The head bank honcho at the time paused a minute and answered: “No. But would you guys be interested in buying this building someday?”
Thus the idea was born, and Commissioner Terry L. Miller suggested the possibility, however slim, way back then.
Harrison County government has grown in the years since. An engineering department, weights and measures and the adult education agency (Lifelong Learning) have been added. Other departments have grown internally as well.
In the midst of it all, in 1997, Little Indian Creek flooded the annex building, which sits right by the creek in Corydon.
It had been many years since the building had been threatened by flood waters, but this time a big semi trailer floated downstream and got stuck beneath the bridge, which interrupted the flow of water. Whether that was the cause of the building’s being flooded or not, sitting alongside the creek no longer seems the best place for a county office building, so there’s been a movement ever since to relocate those offices. Those include the Emergency Management Agency park department, zoning, veterans services, weights and measures, and the Purdue Extension Service.
So, an architectural and engineering firm was hired to conduct a study of the best way to update county offices, including the downtown courthouse, and more or less consolidate as much as could be consolidated into one area conveniently located for the public. The results of that study have been held off in part because everyone else in the county has been standing in line for the riverboat dollars that would likely be used to implement such a plan.
Just last week, Lifelong Learning and the extension service suggested to the commissioners that the abandoned Country Folks Buffet in north Corydon could be purchased and renovated for some $500,000. Part of the building could be rented out, and the rest used by those two agencies. The two apparently have been negotiating with the bank that owns the building and said they needed an answer in about 30 days.
First, no matter how wise or unwise such a move might be, it is the commissioners’ job to negotiate the purchase or sale of any building, and it is the commissioners’ job to see to it that county offices have the space necessary to operate, so it seems unwise for someone else to step in and try to fill those shoes. The better course would be to allow the commissioners to do the job for which they were elected.
It just might be that the commissioners’ long-held hopes of developing a government complex downtown, within the limits of the county seat, will soon materialize. Let’s hear what their consultants have to say before heading out in other directions. And let’s give the goose that laid the golden egg, Caesars’ gambling complex, a chance to build up the county coffers a little so the commissioners will have some money for the project.
We might, just might, see something done with the old jail in the not-too-distant future. Possibilities for that building include archive storage and space for at least one county office. And if the bank building next door eventually becomes part of the county complex, can drive-up services be far behind?