TIPTON - After several years of planning, dozens of government meetings, and hundreds of doughnuts and cups of coffee, Tipton cut the ribbon on its new jail Thursday.
The $16 million, 36,000-square-foot project was opened to the public for the first time last week, marking the end of a nearly decade-long development process that spanned different council and commissioner members, two sheriffs and an increase in taxes for the county’s population.
The last time a jail was built in Tipton County, Grover Cleveland was serving his second, non-consecutive term as president. Built in 1893-94 for the price of $40,000, the original building, located downtown at 121 W. Madison St., has remained virtually unaltered.
While historically significant, the old jail is woefully inadequate for criminal justice in the 21st Century.
For years, the old jail has failed inspections by the Indiana Department of Correction. With just 27 beds, it's too small to house the 40 inmates who on average occupy the jail. While a major addition was added in 1983, the old jail also lacks the administrative space needed.
Plus, the building is in need of repairs. A leaky roof has caused water damage throughout parts of the structure.
"We are considered one of the worst-condition jails in the state," Tipton County Commissioner Jim Mullins told the Tribune last March.
But all that now changes.
‘A JAIL OF FIRSTS’
Once home of one of the oldest jails in the state, Tipton County is now home to one the newest and one of the most modern jails in the state, especially for a “small jail,”defined as one that’s under 100 beds.
“It’s a jail of firsts,” Joe Mrak, of Securitechture and principal architect of the new jail, said. “It’s the first progressive design in the state of Indiana...This is one of the highlights of my career.”
The new jail is the first one in the state with a mental health unit specifically designed for inmates with mental health issues, as well the first one to have the intake observable from central control, which is located on the second floor and can monitor and control nearly every inch of the facility, including being able to stop the flow of water in the jail’s plumbing system to save on utilities or to prevent inmates from flushing things down the drain.
The exterior of the building was designed to not look like a jail, a feature county officials pushed for as the facility is located on the city’s western gateway and will be one of the first things people see while visiting Tipton after taking the Ind. 28 Frankfort/Tipton exit from U.S. 31.
The new jail also has a modern kitchen, laundry room, intake room, inmate property room, a classroom, WiFi throughout, 91 security cameras, and an indoor and outdoor recreation area.
Most of the jail cells include their own stainless steel toilets and showers and are divided into separate cell blocks, while the minimum security block is 24 beds, laid out dormitory style.
And it’s designed to be easily expandable; bed space can be nearly doubled to 80 additional beds if ever needed. Inmates currently at the old jail will be moved to the new jail soon. And because the new jail will not be full more often than not, the county is already planning on getting paid by having other counties send their inmates to Tipton County.
On the administrative side, the facility has a training room for jail staff, offices, record-keeping space and space for storing evidence. The size of the training room alone is not much bigger than the administrative space the old jail has.
“This building will give the Tipton County personnel modern working conditions and much-needed tools,” Tipton County Sheriff Tony Frawley said. “The building will also help us better serve those incarcerated in Tipton County, which is as important as any responsibility we have.”
To pay for the new jail, the county approved an increase in 2015 of the local income tax by no more than 0.4%; the proceeds of that will go toward paying the bond taken out to finance the project. Early estimates of the new jail were around $8-9 million, but the final figure is more than double that at $16 million.
For Frawley, the new jail is nothing short of a dream come true.
“It’s taken a lot of heartache, a lot of sweat and a lot of stress, but I think at the end of the day, I think we’ll be able to stand in front of the community and say ‘We’ve got our money’s worth,’” he said.
THE FIGHT TO SAVE HISTORY
With the new jail finally opened, the question for the county now becomes “What do we do with the old jail?”
It’s not a new question. It’s been discussed by the county commissioners, who are in charge of the old jail, for years, but no decision has been made yet.
The old jail, built by well-known Adolph Scherrer, is just one of two buildings in Tipton County on the National Register of Historic Places. The other - the courthouse - was also designed by Scherrer, who most famously designed the state’s Capitol building.
With so much history at stake, the Tipton County Historical Society has been fighting for the past several years to keep the building standing.
A 2014 feasibility study found the building was in relatively good shape considering its age, and restoration could be done. But that restoration would come with a hefty price tag.
The study projected a full renovation could cost up to $1.5 million, including masonry work, new windows and doors, and fixing the roof and drainage problems. That cost has almost surely gone up since then.
The best thing going for the building, is the fact it's listed on the National Register. That designation doesn't prevent the structure from being torn down, but it does unlock a slew of financial incentives that would offset the cost to renovate it.
The biggest perk is the federal rehabilitation incentive tax credit, which offers a 20-percent, dollar-for-dollar, income tax credit on redevelopment costs. It's a credit that's only available for buildings on the National Register, and could save a developer $300,000 on rehabbing the jail.
Historical Society Executive Director Jill Curnutt-Howerton believes the building could be the home for many things, including a historical museum or even senior housing, something currently lacking in the community.
Repurposing a county’s original jail to housing isn’t out of the ordinary. In nearby Marion, the old county jail was turned into apartments.
Mullins said the commissioners are expecting Indiana Landmarks, one of the largest private statewide historic preservation organizations, to speak at the board’s next meeting on Monday, March 2.
There are rumors that Tipton County’s old jail will be included in the organizations yearly “10 Most Endangered” list. While being included on the list is never ideal, the designation can be a blessing in disguise as more attention, both statewide and even nationally, is attracted to the structures picked, which can and has in the past led to some of the at-risk structures being saved.
Mullins said the board is also waiting for a report from an architecture class from Ball State University who toured the old jail and are putting together recommendations of possible uses for it.
The cost to simply demolish the structure ranges up to $500,000, but for Historical Society Executive Director Jill Curnutt-Howerton, that option is too disheartening to think about.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” she said. “It’s in decent shape...it can be repurposed. To tear it down would be an injustice for everyone, for future generations.”