Demolition of the former Fayette County Jail began on Thursday morning with several onlookers stopping by throughout the day.
The former jail, located at 113 E. Market St. in Washington Court House, was originally built in 1884. Although there were additions made in the 1900s to the facility, that was prior to the state standards and regulations in effect during this century. As previously reported, the former jail failed numerous state standards, had safety concerns, was constantly needing upkeep, and had certain factors that would make it unfeasible to modernize the building — such as cast iron plumbing from 1884.
Some of the early onlookers in the day included current and past county employees who worked within the building.
Bob Cannon worked as a Fayette County Sheriff’s Office deputy for approximately 55 years starting in 1961. He is now retired and living in Springfield.
“It’s just unbelievable, but it is time for it to go down. They’ve needed a new jail here for about 50 years. We always talked about a new jail, but nothing ever happened until we got this new one. It was needed…bad,” said Cannon as he watched the building be demolished. “When I first went to work there, they just had one jail (cell with a few spaces available for inmates) that had one door in it. They couldn’t house women and men in there. Then, when they built the (additional) one onto the back, they put the men in there and the women in that smaller one.”
Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, when asked how it feels to see the building being torn down, said, “Bittersweet. As soon as we stopped using it, the black mold took over the entire building. It was just unchecked, and we were fighting it all the time. We’re glad we are in a much better facility, but we are still sad we are losing a little bit of history. But every building, everything has its life span whether it’s a tree, whether it’s your car — even life itself has a life span. This building has far outspent its life expectancy. We got 130 years of use out of the building, and it was used every day for that 130 years. It was well thought out in 1884, but they didn’t have the problems that we have now.”
The administrative side of the building was moved to the new facility in November while the jail side was moved over in May.
The black mold got so bad following that time that, “you could barely breathe in there it was so bad,” according to Stanforth.
“The steps were covered in moisture all the time,” he explained, as if a faucet was always left running.
Some things from the building, aside from items able to be reused at the new facility, are being salvaged for historical purposes.
Five sunflowers, which are actually lightning rods, were able to be removed from the former jail’s roof. Each one will be placed in different locations in the county, according to Stanforth: the court room in the courthouse, the museum, the sheriff’s lobby, the city administration roof and the roof of the new jail.
A few of the former jail doors from 1884 will be put on display.
Fillmore Construction out of Leesburg is handling the demolition for $48,500. Big sprayers were being used during the demolition to help keep the amount of dust down. Once clean-up is complete, they will grade the site, and top soil left over from a recent project at the Fayette County Airport will be used. Current plans are for the site to be left alone to settle until spring. Once settled, a concrete patio with landscaping will potentially be added in late spring.
The new jail is part of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement complex located at 1500 Robinson Road S.E. in Washington C.H. It includes an administrative area, a 911 call center, and the detention area.
The legislation that allowed the funding for the new complex was passed by voters during the May 7, 2019 special election by a 1,378-1,129 margin. The levy contained two parts — one to fund the construction and one to fund the operation of the new facility. The funding for the jail was a 40-year, $21,002,594 loan with a 3.5% interest rate. Following the passage, construction of the facility began in June of 2019.
With changes made throughout the construction, the total cost of the construction project came to approximately $21,689,760. Since that original note, the commissioners were able to do a “county bond refunding” which included selling bonds backed by the levy at an approximate 2.35% interest rate.
As previously reported and explained by Commissioner Dan Dean, “the end result of that will be the county will save, over the life of the loan, about $(8.5) million dollars in interest. Not only that, it shortened the period of the loan. So, instead of a 40-year loan, we now have a 31-year loan.”
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.