Historic Canadian County jail needs new roof – and fast

County commissioners will seek contractor bids; $150k budgeted

Canadian County commissioners have budgeted $150,000 to replace the roof at the “old” historic county jail next to the courthouse and judicial building in El Reno. The roof has partially collapsed, causing damage underneath. Canadian County is responsible for maintenance under a 1995 lease agreement with Preservation El Reno. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

EL RENO – Canadian County commissioners are moving ahead plans to replace a roof that’s caving in at the “old” county jail.

Time is of the essence to hire a contractor for the job.

Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson“It will be falling in soon,” Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson warned.

“It will be falling in soon,” Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson warned.

Canadian County commissioners took no action at their March 7 meeting on a “conditional partial release of lease” between Canadian County and Preservation El Reno for the roof project.

“We’ll have it back on our agenda soon,” Anderson noted.

Plans call for Canadian County taxpayer dollars to be used to replace the roof on the old jail, at the corner of Rogers and Evans near the Canadian County Courthouse and Judicial Building. The building is on Oklahoma’s National Register of Historic Places.

Canadian County has budgeted $150,000 to fix this roof on “our old, historic” jail, according to Chairman Anderson.

“I think all of us recognize the importance of the building.”

Preservation El Reno’s Betty Johnston prepared a draft agreement for county commissioners to consider before they solicit contractor bids to replace the roof.

Officials with Canadian County and Preservation El Reno in 1995 signed a lease agreement for both the old jail building and stables. Canadian County is responsible for maintenance and repairs.

Before county commissioners vote on the conditional partial release, Anderson asked that this language be excised from the agreement:

“That such removal and replacement of the roof is in a manner consistent with the historic character of the old jail.”

Otherwise, Anderson would want Preservation El Reno to be responsible for maintenance to the building’s outside – something that would require lots of fundraising.

“My concern is, who’s judgment would govern to determine whether the repairs were consistent with the historic aspect of the jail?” the District 2 county commissioner said. “If we’re going to spend county funds, I want to have control over what repairs are made to the roof.”

District 3 County Commissioner Jack Stewart said he had the same concerns.

“It would be a judgment/subjective call,” Stewart said. “Is there some way, Betty, we can more define that?

“We want to get that roof fixed as bad as you do, and we’ve put money in the budget to do it.”

Preservation El Reno’s Johnston supports having a new roof that matches one installed on the stables, also known as the “carriage house.”

“If we duplicate that, I think we’d be OK,” Johnston told commissioners. “We just need to get it done.”



Canadian County commissioners won’t know the cost of this jail roof project until receiving formal bids.

District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader fears installing a new roof and making other needed repairs may well exceed what county funds have been budgeted.

Noting that he supports historic preservation, Hader referred to the deteriorating condition of the structure in recent years – not just the damaged roof, but what’s below it.

“Just in the time I’ve been in office, it went from a roof that was still relatively ‘weathered in’ to, it’s just filling up with water constantly,” Hader said.

Chairman Anderson agreed with Hader’s assessment.

“I think when we get into that, we’re looking at a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Anderson said.

Johnston, however, said she has received an estimate that’s below $100,000 “to replace all the rafters and everything.”

“And he does a lot of this historic work,” she told commissioners.

Chairman Anderson replied, “That would be great. I would invite him to bid on it.”

Commissioner Stewart emphasized this will be a “total” roof replacement, not just a repair job.

“We’ve got to address the roof first because then there will be problems inside the building,” he said. “Once we get a new roof, then we can start attacking that. That’s a separate issue.”

After more discussion, Anderson told Johnston he would revise the proposed conditional partial release to present to Preservation El Reno.

Canadian County Commissioners will consider the agreement after the document is signed by Preservation El Reno members.