Structural engineer recommended for historic jail project

Would evaluate condition of old county building after partial roof collapse

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Yukon’s Erick Westfahl, of Redhawk Construction Inc., has recommended that Canadian County Commissioners have a structural engineer evaluate the condition of the historic county jail at the corner of Rogers and Evans in El Reno. If the structure is sound, commissioners could hire a construction manager to oversee needed repairs to the historic building. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

EL RENO – A contractor has advised Canadian County officials to have a structural engineer evaluate the condition of the historic county jail before they decide the next step.

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Canadian County Commissioners, at their weekly meeting Aug. 29, heard a proposal from Erick Westfahl with Redhawk Construction Inc., about rehabbing the old jail building at the corner of Rogers and Evans.

“The work is far beyond just a roofing contractor,” said Westfahl, who’s lived in Yukon more than 20 years.

Work crews would need to use lifts and scaffolding for a “total truss and deck replacement” on the historic structure, he added.

“Then a new roof can go on.”

The roof has partially collapsed causing substantial damage underneath.

County commissioners this spring solicited bids to make roof repairs to the county-owned building, which was constructed between 1908 and 1913.

However, no contractor was interested enough in the project to submit a bid.

At that time, District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart suggested the board consider using a construction manager to “manage the process.”

In late May, county officials gave Westfahl a tour of the historic building.

“It really did confirm my fears – and then some,” he said. “Frankly, I’d be very leery of any roofing contractor who says they can fix it.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. But there’s a lot of evaluation that needs to happen first.”

The historic Canadian County Jail is adjacent to the renovated stables near the Canadian County Courthouse and Judicial Building.

In 1985, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Canadian County already budgeted $150,000 to repair the roof, but commissioners have indicated the cost will likely be much higher to make all needed improvements due to the building’s deteriorating condition.

Westfahl recommended the first step is to hire a structural engineer to “really evaluate the building” to determine the structure’s overall condition.

“By my evaluation, it seemed to be in very good shape from the truss line down,” he added. “I believe the super-structure below the roof is in very good condition, but a structural engineer needs to look at it and see if there’s been any water damage eroding parts of the structure first.”

Westfahl strongly recommended having an asbestos and lead evaluation done as well.

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DON’T WAIT TOO LONG

If the building is in good shape, Westfahl said the next step would be to hire a construction management firm to develop bid packages from a list of needed repairs and improvements.

These could include demolition, structural repair, new roofing and flashing, window replacement, and caulking.

“I know this is a fantastic building, an historic building, that we want to be able to keep,” Westfahl said. “These things are going to be necessary to keep the building in shape so it’s not constantly being eroded even more.

“The longer that it waits, the worse the condition is going to get.”

It also would be wise to clean the building’s inside and remove pigeon dung for health reasons, he added.

When the historic jail’s roof is removed, Westfahl cautioned against workers bearing their weight on the building.

“We’ve got power lines and we have a failing structure,” he told county commissioners. “It really needs to be taken apart, almost piece by piece, on lifts by a qualified demolition company. It’s not hard work.

“But you can’t just put any crew of laborers on the roof and expect a good result. It will be quite dangerous, and it can be tragic if it’s not done properly. The work is relatively minor but needs to be done with precision.”

Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson concurred with Westfahl’s assessment of the situation.

“One trade is not going to be able to correct all the problems that are wrong with the building,” Anderson said. “We do need to involve an engineer and get (a proposal) together the contractors have confidence in when they bid.”

Canadian County Commissioners took no action on the proposed historic jail repairs at their Aug. 29 meeting. The project is still being considered and costs are unknown.

In March, commissioners approved an agreement with Preservation El Reno, Inc. to accept maintenance responsibility for the building, amending a 1995 lease for the historic jail and stables (also known as the “carriage house”).

The agreement gives Preservation El Reno the right to take the building back if someone ever wanted to lease it from Canadian County.

Preservation El Reno President Betty Johnston told county commissioners this spring she hopes the historic jail building “will be used for the benefit of all the citizens of Canadian County and the state.”

Johnston asked that the new roof match the one installed on the Canadian County Stables between the old jail and sheriff’s office.

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