County: No plans to demolish old jail

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, May 8, 2013

There are no immediate plans to demolish the old Covington County Jail, the county commission told Covington Historical Society member Sue Bass Wilson Tuesday; however, a committee may soon be tasked with examining the use or potential use of all county-owned buildings.

Wilson expressed support for preserving the three-story structure located behind the county courthouse. She said the property was placed on the National Historic Register in 1989.

Some efforts were made over the years to preserve the property. The Covington Historical Society leased the building in 1999, and secured several grants which were used to patch a gaping hole in the roof, and to purchase some paint for interior walls. The CHS used inmate labor for the painting.

However, a facility tour by Star-News staff members and Commission Chairman Bill Godwin earlier this week showed the building, which is not climate controlled and has numerous broken windows, has rapidly deteriorated over the years.

“At some point, something needs to be done,” Godwin said Tuesday.

The Covington Historical Society’s lease required it to make improvements. However, it allowed the lease to expire, a fact that surprised a number of members who met to discuss the matter in April. Society members said they also used a grant to have an architect draw a plan for renovation.

Wilson addressed commissioners in April about the property after social media rumors that it might be demolished drew ire from Covington County Historical Society members.

Tuesday night, Wilson again directed commissioners to the 175 comments from the public about saving the historic property.

“One person posted, ‘Surely the people of Andalusia could muster enough imagination to come up with a creative use of the property?’ ” Wilson said. “This property is worth saving. It would be a shame to tear it down. You can’t replace historic buildings once they’re gone.”

Commissioner Joe Barton told Wilson there hasn’t been a lot of discussion by the commission on tearing the structure down.

“I don’t think anyone is excited about destroying it,” he said.

Godwin said he’d like to see a committee established to look at each county-owned building.

“Because you’re here, it prompts an opportunity to look at all buildings and see how it’s being used and if that it’s used in the best way to serve the people of the county,” Godwin said. “Then, that committee can make recommendations on what to do with them. See how much it would cost to do those things. Then, we could have a public hearing for input, and then decide what to do.”

In an effort to improve the looks of the property, county employees will clean up the outside, all agreed.

Bass said now was a perfect time for the discussion.

“May is National Preservation Month, and the theme is ‘See. Save. Celebrate,” she said. “I hope you see (the old jail) for what it’s worth. Celebrate it and keep that jail.”