At the September 20 Pocahontas County Commission Meeting, Architect Bryson VanNostrand, of VanNostrand Architects PLLC, presented his preliminary assessment of the County Jail building, which is located behind the courthouse.
Commission President Walt Helmick asked VanNostrand to examine that building and assess if it would be economically feasible to renovate the existing historical jail into a courthouse annex or if it would be less costly to demolish it and build a new courthouse annex on the same site.
Helmick expressed his concern that new flood plain maps are placing the jail in a flood zone. Helmick said that the old jail building has a basement, while a new structure would not have one, making a new building less vulnerable to flooding.
VanNostrand said that his initial examination of the existing former jail is that it is “structurally sound, and the walls were built to not move.” He said that both the courthouse and jail were placed on the National Historical Registry together as one unit in 1994.
He said that as an architect, he has been involved in renovating more historically significant buildings then demolishing them to build new buildings because it can be “hard to tear down a historically significant building.” The reason for this, he explained, is that while the cost of actually renovating the building into a courthouse annex may appear to be more expensive, when you add the cost of going through all the government procedures, regulations and possible restrictions required to demolish a historical building, it is often more expensive. VanNostrand suggest- ed there is also intrinsic value in keeping and renovating historical buildings so if possible, “we should try to do that.”
However, VanNostrand said that he is not prepared to recommend either course of action without first obtaining more information about exactly what square footage and how many offices the county needs in a courthouse annex.
Commissioner Jesse Groseclose said an annex building would need handicap access, which does not exist in the old jail, and the new annex would likely be used as a Judicial Annex, so it would also need security features installed in it.
VanNostrand asked the commission if any state or federal money has been put into the jail building in the past 25 years, because, if so, it will be more difficult and complicated to tear it down. Helmick said that to his knowledge there had not been.
The architect also asked if the commission had considered checking to see if the existing addition to the courthouse had been designed to possibly allow a third floor to be built above it as an annex. He said courthouse additions are commonly designed that way for future expansion.
Helmick agreed that the commission needs to figure out exactly how much office space will be needed in any new annex building.
VanNostrand said once he has that information, he will be better prepared to recommend the best economical approach, whether to demolish it and build a new building or renovate it.
In other actions at the meeting, the commissioners approved a resolution which will allow new 911 employees to participate in the WV Emergency Medical Services Retirement System (WV EMSRS,) which 911 Director Mike O’Brien says will help him recruit new 911 employees since the WV EMSRS is superior to the regular State Employee Retirement System, in that it allows workers to retire in 20 years with the same benefits that the State Employee Retirement System provides after 25 years.
Additionally, the commission approved the Emergency Management Performance Grant award of $23,000, and authorized the hiring of Erin Jackson as a part-time 911 Dispatcher.
The commission declined to assist Craig and Cynthia Ashford in preparing their application for a mitigation Reconstruction Grant to rebuild their flood-destroyed home. They said that although they had authorized the Ashford family to apply for that grant, preparing the grant application is a private matter.
The commission discussed the possibility of applying for a permit to dredge the channel of the Greenbrier River in several areas of the county, including the portion of the river in Marlinton. No action was taken at this time, but Helmick said he will be pursuing this.
The commission also:
• approved a motion to consider a two-year lease extension for the West Virginia Division of Forestry to use space in the ARC Building in Marlinton.
• agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with the WV Supreme Court of Appeals concerning the Family Court, and approved to increase their payments to L. Jay Kniceley from $1,200 a month to $1,500 a month for them to lease the Family Court building.
• approved the 2021-2022 County Financial Statement, and the election officials for the November General election.
• appointed David McLaughlin to an unexpired term on the County Solid Waste Authority, which will expire June 30, 2026.