Courthouse restoration could start soon
The Harrison County Council last night approved $500,000 for the vacant jail in downtown Corydon to be renovated in conjunction with the courthouse. Earlier, only $4 million of the $4.7 million requested by the commissioners for both buildings had been approved.
Councilman Kenneth Saulman, who made the motion that failed two weeks ago to allow the $4.7 million, brought the issue to the table again last night. He told fellow council members, ‘I feel we as a council need to go ahead and give another $500,000, if the commissioners will approve of that, for the renovation of the old jail.’
‘But will that do it?’ asked Councilman Alvin Brown.
Commissioner James Goldman, who was in the audience along with Commissioner J.R Eckart, said: ‘We will rethink what we’re going to do and possibly cut back in some areas. I can’t say unequivocally it will, but …’
Councilman Carl Duley seconded Saulman’s motion. ‘I’ve wallowed this around for two weeks as to what we should have done,’ Duley said, adding he had come to the conclusion: ‘We shouldn’t do one without the other; the two go hand in hand.’
Even though renovating the old jail won’t get all of the county offices out of the flood-prone annex, Duley said he has now learned that the commissioners have a plan to address that and several offices can be included in the renovated jail.
‘We’re all elected by the people to do the best we can for this county,’ Duley said. ‘If we don’t do this, we will do some people an injustice by not funding this project.’
Council chair Gary Davis pointed out that some council members hadn’t supported the jail funding because they were skeptical about spending money on the old building. Also, he said a private company has shown interest in buying the property, and if that is the case, it would be better to get it on the tax rolls.
The jail building has now been empty six years, Brown pointed out, and there are no guarantees anyone would buy it. ‘It could be empty another six years,’ he declared.
The motion passed 4-2, with Brown and Carl (Buck) Mathes voting with Duley and Saulman, and Rhonda Rhoads and Ralph Sherman voting in opposition.
Sherman said he opposed the funding because he thinks moving the engineering department from the first floor of the courthouse to the highway garage in north Corydon would free up space to keep the records in the courthouse. ‘That’s why I’m against this, and I will be again,’ he said.
Rhoads didn’t elaborate last night on her opposition vote, but she has said earlier she’s concerned the renovation projects don’t get the offices moved from the annex. ‘This is really not addressing the needs,’ she said then.
Although the chair was not required to vote to break a tie, Davis let it be known in advance that he would be opposed if that were needed.
‘There are a lot of variables we’re dealing with here … I want to make it clear that redoing the old jail is not the only option for redoing our records,’ Davis said, and called for the vote.
During a brief break that followed, Goldman and Eckart seemed pleased with the council’s reversal even though the funding is still $200,000 short of the original request.
They had decided last week at a work session with the architect and contractors not to scale down the work at the courthouse to free up money for the old jail. That was the recommendation of RQAW senior vice president and project architect Joseph M. Mrak.
The commissioners will confer with the architect again to work out details and prepare to let the two projects out for bids on work not covered under the performance-based, energy savings contract with Performance Services Inc.
The $4 million approved by the council would use about $3.3 million on hand in the county’s cumulative capital development and courthouse building funds. Riverboat revenue would be used to make up the difference, including the $500,000 approved last night.
One long-range (20 year) plan under consideration is to move all ‘service- related’ offices and departments (such as parks, emergency management and extension offices), plus the courts and court-supportive offices into a new facility to connect with the Harrison County Justice Center in north Corydon. All property related offices (such as auditor, recorder, assessor) would remain in the downtown courthouse.
An addition would be built for the highway department administration and county engineer to connect with the highway garage and office on Harrison Way, off Quarry Road in north Corydon.
A solid-waste warehouse would also be constructed.