TIPTON — The rehabilitation of the former Tipton County Jail into county office space would cost up to $2 million, according to a feasibility study commissioned by the county commissioners.
Dave Kroll, a principal with Indianapolis-based architect firm Ratio Architects, gave a summary of the study at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
According to the firm’s estimation, rehabilitation of the old jail into office space for the county coroner, Tipton County Historical Society, health department and record space for the county clerk department would run between $1.8 million to $2 million. Ratio worked with Brandt Construction of Indianapolis to come up with the estimate, which does not include design fees or furnishing the building.
Kroll said the jail has obvious but not unrepairable water damage and a small amount of corrosion to some of its steel members. The biggest rehab costs would come from all new electrical, mechanical and plumbing, he said, adding that the building’s masonry is in generally good condition and that the roof has a “few issues” but, according to a recent separate analysis, is good for another 10 to 50 years.
“Overall, the general opinion of the team is the building is in fair to good condition,” Kroll said, adding later that the building could certainly house those aforementioned departments and everyone would be happy. “It gives them a new space that is maybe better organized.”
According to the feasibility study, the records storage, health department and coroner’s office would be located in the jail section, with the majority of the renovations occurring in the cell block. The historical society would be located in the connected former sheriff’s residence.
The study has two reconfiguration plans, with the main difference between the two being accessibility to the upper floor and whether there’s a ramp installed to make the first floor accessible throughout, or whether a small elevator is put in to make all levels accessible.
The coroner is currently operating out of the former jail but has to conduct autopsies at a local funeral home. Under the reconfiguration plan, that work would be moved to the former jail.
Notably, the study found that the first floor of the sheriff’s residence is not strong enough to hold up any exhibits the historical society could put up and would need extra support installed under the floor in the basement.
The commissioners made no formal decision Tuesday.
At a previous commissioners meeting, county engineer Phil Beer told the board he believes the estimate for rehabilitation is too low. A previous study commissioned by the county in 2014 found that restoration would come at a price tag of $1.5 million.
“It is probably less expensive to rehab the building (than to tear it down and build a new one). However, there’s all the historical aspects of it,” Beer said.
Commissioner Nancy Cline brought up that concern to Kroll on Tuesday. Kroll replied that he believed the $1.8 million to $2 million figure was “in the ballpark” for this type of project.
“You’re right, construction costs are volatile right now, material costs are crazy, delivery, even finding workforce,” Kroll said. “Again, this was a preliminary conceptual estimate. We could certainly vet this with local contractors. ... No crystal ball, but this is our best guess at this moment.”
For years, the county has mulled what to do with the old jail. Those discussions have ramped up after the new county jail was built on the city’s far west side, leaving the old jail empty.
The building is one of two structures in the county listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its unique architecture and storied past. It was built in 1894 at 121 W. Madison St. by architect Adolph Scherrer, who also designed the county’s courthouse and the state’s Capitol building. As such, some would like to see the county preserve it or, at the very least, sell or gift it to a private party who would rehab and reuse the building.
For the last two years, the fate of the historical building has caught the attention of Indiana Landmarks, the state’s largest historical preservation organization. The nonprofit has placed the old jail on its “Most Endangered List” for two years in a row in hopes of stirring up interest in saving the building and not tearing it down.