Plans are in the works to demolish the Henry County Jail on Kings Mountain Road sometime next summer. Built in 1974 by Frith Construction, the building consistently struggled with overpopulation. Eventually, the new Henry County Adult Detention Center was built, and since March the former jail has been empty and unused.
“You won’t believe the number” of inmates meant to be housed in the facility compared to how many typically housed there, JR Powell, deputy county administrator, said during a recent tour of the facility.
“When the jail was built in 1974, it was built to house 67 inmates. That quickly grew, and in 1997 they did the first renovation, added the Records Department here, the Processing Room, and the Sally port (secure entry),” Powell said as he walked through the now vacant building.
“Prior to 1997, the basement was offices, but they renovated that as well in ’97 and it basically doubled the occupancy,” he said, adding the facility “went from 67 beds to right at 120 beds. Prior to them closing the jail, the number of inmates that we had in here was up to 220 plus.”
General population cells could sometimes have up to 30 people, with inmates sleeping anywhere they could place a mat, be it floors, tables, or anywhere else they could find the space, Powell said, and added it was “not a very hospitable area to be trying to help people and rehabilitate them.”
In advance of the demo, county officials are salvaging everything possible, whether that is through re-purposing, re-using or auctioning items that are no longer needed, Powell said.
Now each of the rooms – the processing Room, the old control center where correctional officers monitored cameras, the ‘drunk tank,’ where intoxicated inmates being processed waited to sober up, the solitary cells, the visitation area, general cells, and the medical area – are eerily quiet.
The county keeps the HVAC system running to avoid stagnant
air. It and other electrical components buzz and hum. Those sounds were masked and easily unnoticed when the building was in use. Papers and writing utensils still litter the floors in some areas, as Powell discussed the fate of the building.
Although many people have proposed the idea of repurposing the building for a variety of purposes, Powell said the way the building was constructed, that option is not realistic.
“People asked, ‘Well, why couldn’t you repurpose this building for something else?’ It’s a decent looking building from the outside,” he said. “The problem was, we had contractors come in, and the way that this building was constructed for a jail, it’s solid concrete, it’s got reinforced rebar steel inside of it, and in order to renovate this to become like an office space or anything like that, it was going to cost millions of dollars.”
“It just made much more sense to just do demolition. The plans are just to do a full demolition. We’ve got some budgetary numbers to do full demolition of the building, which includes hauling everything out of here. The basement, everything, then filling it in with fresh dirt, replanting grass, and then who knows, 10-years from now, they may decide to build something on this lot,” he said.
Permitting dictates that the building could be just pushed into the basement and have dirt poured over top, but for a building to be constructed on the site later, the rubble would have to be dug back out and the area cleared, Powell said.
So far, funding has not been allocated specifically for full demolition, but officials are hopeful it will be in place by the demolition timeline. The county is looking towards possible grants to help with funding, Powell said.
“We’re going to try to apply for grants. Right now, there have not been funds budgeted for the full demolition. There are funds that were budgeted in the current budget year to begin the mitigation process of starting some of the demolition. That’s the project that I’ve been leading, and that’s primarily been doing the prep work,” Powell said.
This prep work included lead and asbestos checks. Asbestos was found in the building, and is scheduled to be removed in the coming weeks. Prep work also includes the rewiring of much of the electric and fiber optic wiring at the complex, which also includes the Henry County Administration Building.
“On this whole complex, this jail building was the first building here. So, before the administration building was here, this was here,” Powell said of the jail. “Before the sheriff’s office building was here, this was here. So, that being set up that way, a lot of the electricity, a lot of the fiber optics, all of that came to this building first and then branched out.”
As a result, all must be removed or rerouted to omit the jail, he added.
In the meantime, the county has been repurposing everything it can from the building, such as the fencing outside the building, and selling other things at auction. Little has gone to scrap, and the county has saved on those costs by using its own refuse department for the work instead of hiring an outside entity, he said.
“Anything from the jail that we can repurpose, we are,” Powell said. “A lot of the stuff … the kitchen had all the stoves, the washrooms had washers and dryers in it, a lot of the old furnishing – desks and stuff, we put them all on GovDeals, the auction site. We’ve sold a lot of the stuff that was in there. And all those funds just come back into the county and then we repurpose it to continue working with this project.”
Besides the few things that were old, aged, and had little value, most everything in the building has been sold. Before the building is demolished, the county intends to remove and recycle any of the steel in the facility that it can.
“We’ve stripped out anything that had any value to it,” Powell said. “Anything that we could sell, auction off, repurpose, it’s out of here.”