Halfway house eyed for old jail

By Joseph Slacian

A new purpose may have been found for the old Wabash County Jail building.

Wabash County Commissioners on Monday, Aug. 31, granted three organizations – Wabash Marketplace Inc., SRKM Architecture and Serenity House – one year to finalize plans and find funding to refurbish the old jail. The building is located directly east of the current jail on West Market Street.

If refurbished, the building could become an 11-bed residential recovery home for alcohol and drug offenders seeking to kick their habits.

Brent A. Martin, architect and partner for SRKM and Steve Smith, director of Serenity House, made their pitches before commissioners, seeking a one-year extension into developing plans.

Last year, WMI received one year to develop plans for the building. It received a three-month extension earlier this year, largely because the agency’s involvement with the city’s Stellar Grant program.

Martin, in his presentation, admitted the building has “suffered under some neglect for a period of years. It has been abandoned.”

“However, if you read our report, you’ll see we feel structurally the building is sound,” he continued. “We feel it is restorable.  And one of the key considerations there is finding an adaptive reuse. It doesn’t do any good to spend the money in restoring it without an intended purpose.”

Martin also admitted that there is a great deal of peeling paint and other cosmetic problems in the building.

“I don’t know that those are big, scary issues on a restoration like this,” he added. “I didn’t see anything as we assessed it, other than some minor structural issues that are easily resolvable in terms of the overall soundness of the building.”

There is some deterioration on the roof and on an eave, but most of the eave is structurally sound, Martin told Commissioners. There also are some “non-historic porches” which would be removed from the building.

He said that tests for such things as asbestos, mold and lead paint have yet to be conducted.

“You have suspected asbestos pipe covering, suspected mold in the basement, and it would be the shock of my life if you didn’t have lead paint in that building,” Martin said. “None of those are particularly difficult issues to address.”

Restoring the building would cost an estimated $847,900, Martin said. However, if just the exterior and the interior of the sheriff’s office were restored, the cost would be $617,900. The remaining interior would be restored later.

Potential funding resources, he said, are a Federal Home Loan Bank Housing Grant, grants from such sources as the Historic Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Assistance Program and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Administration, as well as funds from the Wabash County Commissioners, the local criminal justice system and local philanthropy.

Once completed, Serenity House would then be responsible for utilities, maintenance and all other costs associated with operating the building.

Smith told Commissioners that Serenity House residents are charged $125 per week to stay at the facility. Once in the program, the must live by some 48 rules, and attend at least seven recovery meetings each week, and find and maintain a job.

Rules, he told The Paper of Wabash County after the meeting, include a zero tolerance policy.

“There’s no drinking or drugging, whatsoever,” he said. “If you get caught using you’ll have to leave. We do give random drug screenings.

“Also, there would be no fighting. It’s about learning structure and accountability, something you and I do on a daily basis. When you’re out using and doing what you do, you kind of slide.”

Smith said he is a recovering alcoholic and addict.

“That’s what it takes for these men and women – alcoholics and addicts helping alcoholics and addicts,” he said. “That’s what we push. We’re just there to provide a safe, clean, structured environment for residents to learn how to live clean and sober and be a productive member of society.”

Serenity House now operates six facilities – three in Auburn and three in Warsaw. Some Wabash County people are residents of one of the facilities, Smith noted.

Residents are fed for about $2.50 per day, Smith told The Paper of Wabash County, noting that much of the food comes from such programs as Second Harvest Food Bank and Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry.

The next step, he said, is to make sure there is a need and support for such a program in Wabash County.

WMI Board President Jason Callahan was pleased with Monday’s results.

“I’m very happy,” he said, noting that Indiana Landmarks placed the building on the 10 Most Endangered Buildings in Indiana in 2014. “I think it’s a win, win, win. If we can restore the building, if we can repurpose the building, and then it serves a need and helps people in our community, I feel good about that.”

Posted on 2015 Sep 01