The old Leavenworth County Jail can be torn down.
That was the decision Tuesday night of the Leavenworth City Commission. City commissioners reversed a decision of the city’s Preservation Commission, which had denied a request from the county government to demolish the old jail.
County officials had appealed the Preservations Commission’s Dec. 5 decision, which is why the matter came before city commissioners Tuesday.
Tuesday’s vote to reverse the Preservation Commission’s decision was 4-0. City Commissioner Davis Moulden was absent.
The old jail is located at 503 S. Third St. It’s next door to the Justice Center, which is the current location of the county jail.
The old jail building is not on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s considered to be within the environs of the Leavenworth County Courthouse, which is on the register. The jail also is located within the environs of a historic industrial district.
When denying the county a permit to demolish the old jail, Preservation commissioners found that the demolition would encroach upon, damage or destroy the historical nature of the 1939 building and the environs of the courthouse and industrial district.
This was the second time the county had sought permission to tear down the old jail. In 2007, both the Preservation Commission and City Commission denied a similar request.
According to County Counselor David Van Parys, county officials want to demolish the old jail and construct a parking lot on the site. The lot would provide additional parking for the Justice Center.
Van Parys said parking can be a problem at the Justice Center during municipal court or a large jury trial.
And according to Van Parys, the additional parking will be needed if the Justice Center is expanded.
The old jail was vacated after the Justice Center opened in 2000. And the old jail building has deteriorated.
“The building is an environmental hazard,” Van Parys said.
He said to bring the building to minimal office standards, it would cost an estimated $2.8 million.
“We have looked at various options for it,” he said.
He said the most cost effective solution would be tearing down the building, which was constructed as a Works Progress Administration project.
For every dollar the county would put into the building, it would get 30 cents of use out of it, Van Parys said.
Mayor Larry Dedeke asked what would happen if the City Commission went along with the decision of the Preservation Commission.
Van Parys said either he would return in three years with the same request or a fence would be put up around the building to protect people from falling bricks.
Mayor Pro-Tem Laura Janas Gasbarre said the members of the Preservation Commission take their job seriously and do the job based on the regulations and information they have. But in this case, she believes the Preservation Commission was “strapped” in its decision making process.
City Commissioner Mark Preisinger argued that concern about damage to the historic nature of the old jail building should not have been included in the Preservation Commission’s decision. He argued the decision only should have looked at the impact to the historic environs of the area because the old jail is not on a historic register.