Board of Supervisors encouraged by Historical Society’s plan for Old County Jail

This article is an extended version of what appears in today’s

Daily Progress.

By Jean Feroldi

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors weighed Wednesday whether to retain a firm to study the historic Albemarle County Jail or to leave the task to the local historical society.

Steven Meeks, president of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, told the board that he did not think that a third-party consultant was necessary, saying his group could handle all the work except for legal evaluations.

“The society’s point of view is…we could undertake a lot of this work ourselves and save the county the $30,000 that could in turn be redirected toward the maintenance of the building,” Meeks said.

Built in 1876 on East High Street, the jail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A steering committee involving members from the Board of Supervisors, county staff and the historical society was established in 2008 to devise a strategy to reclaim the jail and preserve its architectural and social significance.

As part of the process, Charlottesville architecture firm BushmanDreyfus was recommended to conduct a $30,000 study of the facility. County staff told the supervisors that they supported the historical society’s plan for the jail complex but thought that further legal, physical and operational evaluations were required.

“We recommend … that we proceed with the engagement of BushmanDreyfus architects to assist us with this effort,” said Bill Letteri, Albemarle County’s director of facilities development. “The focus of their work would be aligned specifically with the proposal of the historic society.”

Board members were not convinced that an outside consultant was needed, saying county staff could do the job more affordably.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he did not think that the potential uses and expenses for the old jail should be the county’s concern.

“My opinion…would be to have private money taking care of this rather than the county to continue funding it,” Boyd said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker felt that conveying the responsibility of the Old Jail to the historical society would be the best course of action.

“If the historic society can get in a position where they understand their proposed uses, what it would take to get there and we’re comfortable on our side then we could consider entering into an agreement and that would then put them into a position where they could fundraise,” Rooker said.

Last year, the historical society agreed to take over the Hatton Ferry, another historical asset whose operations were deemed to be no longer suitable given the economic decline. Meeks told the Board that this has been a record year for the ferry, which is under operation for the first time as a non-profit organization.

The Old Jail complex has an unusual legal history because when it was originally obtained by the city in the 1870s, it did not lie within Charlottesville city limits. Later when it was annexed by the city, the county and city were to exercise joint police powers.

“To our knowledge there has never been any application of a joint exercise of power over this property,” said County Attorney Larry Davis. “So, [the jail] probably has no zoning. so in looking at the future use of this property, one issue that we are going to have to resolve is what legal approvals are going to be necessary for any use to be established there.”

The board recommended that the historical society come back later with additional research about how to realize its plan for the jail.