The Leavenworth Preservation Commission Wednesday denied for the second time a permit application from Leavenworth County to demolish the former county jail.
The county applied for the permit this time for the same reason as in 2007 — they wish to demolish the structure in order to accommodate an expansion of the Justice Center. According to County Buildings and Grounds Director John Forslund, the plan is for the Justice Center to be expanded to the south, where the current parking lot is located.
“If and when the Justice Center expands to the south, there would be no parking around it,” he said.
The jail building itself has seen little maintenance since it was vacated following the completion of the Justice Center in 2000. Leavenworth City Planner Berrin Nejad said the building reportedly had numerous deficiencies the first time a demolition permit was considered in 2007. But those code or environmental hazards, she said, were not to be a part of the preservation commission’s vote.
“Whether or not the demolition would encroach upon, damage or destroy the environs of the nearby historic district is the only question to be considered tonight,” Nejad said.
The 1939 building designed by Myron Feth is in the environs of the Leavenworth County Courthouse, recognized on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Preservation Commissioner Jane Gies said the building might have other historical value in its own right as a structure that was part of the Works Progress Administration, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
“It might be the last one in the city,” she said.
Furthermore, Gies criticized the county’s lack of maintenance at the old jail site.
“I strongly feel that this board should take a stand on anyone just allowing a building to deteriorate because they want to tear it down later,” she said. “That’s unacceptable.”
County Counselor David Van Parys said the building is now an insurance liability because of
its condition. He also said that at some point, the building is going to have to be demolished to fulfill the plans for the Justice Center expansion in the next decade. But the cost to tear the structure down is only likely to increase during that time and the costs to renovate the building are even higher.
“That building, it would cost literally millions to put it in the condition to even put boxes in it,” he said.
Chairman Ken Bower reminded the preservation commissioners that financial or even practcal considerations were not to be part of the commission’s decision-making by design. He and Commissioner John Karrasch then voiced their concerns with the permit. Karrasch said he grew up in St. Joseph, Mo., and that few of the city’s original structures were left after efforts in the 1960s and 70s to tear them down. He said he did not want to see the same happen to Leavenworth. Bower had similar feelings.
Page 2 of 2 - “We lose part of our heritage when we take those structures down,” he said.
With a unanimous vote by the commission to deny the permit, the county now has the option of appealing to the City Commission, a step that County Administrator Pat Hurley on Monday said they would pursue.