By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – $550,000. That’s the initial cost estimate for a restoration of Canadian County’s historic jail.
Canadian County commissioners have authorized construction manager Erick Westfahl to proceed with the bidding phase of a possible “rejuvenation” project at the old jail building, which has fallen into disrepair.
Soliciting contractor bids will provide commissioners with “hard numbers” before they decide whether to proceed with renovations – or tear down the building, according to County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson.
“I do think there’s value in knowing the actual costs,” Anderson said at the commissioners’ May 22 meeting.
Westfahl’s company, Redhawk Construction, has completed its initial pre-construction phase after receiving input from a structural engineer.
Constructed more than 100 years ago, this county-owned building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Shoring up the structure and restoring the exterior – specifically a new roof, sheathing and masonry repairs – would cost around $550,000, the preliminary budget estimate indicates.
This renovation would make the historic jail “look good from the outside” – but the building could not be occupied, according to Westfahl.
Renovating the interior for public use would require a much larger financial investment because of deterioration to the structure on all sides.
“If you ever want to use it permanently and allow the public in there, there’s going to be significantly more structural work that’s going to have to happen,” Westfahl pointed out.
“I would foresee a complete ‘gutting of the inside’ and then (building) a new structure. That, of course, is down the road.”
The $550,000 price estimate includes a 10% contingency.
“That number realistically can be closer to $500,000 on ‘bid day’,” Westfahl told commissioners.
Interested contractors will have some 28 days to submit sealed bids for the historic jail renovation project once a notice is published.
“I do believe it would be a good idea to validate our preliminary budget estimate,” Westfahl agreed. “We may be surprised by numbers, and numbers may come in low.”
The construction manager recommended commissioners proceed with the formal bidding process.
“The building’s not going anywhere,” he said. “It’s not deteriorating any more that is going to require additional work for the foreseeable future.”
After reviewing contractor bids, the commissioners will decide whether to pay to renovate the building.
Or they could choose to demolish the structure – to eventually be replaced with a new building or parking lot.
The estimated $550,000 price tag does cover sanitation cleanup, which would be required for the restoration option.
“Pigeons have been in there for quite some time,” Westfahl said. “Workers cannot go in that area as is. It has to be cleaned up by a professional cleaner that handles that sort of thing.”
Redhawk provided preliminary estimates to salvage existing stone – perhaps to use in another building – if commissioners decide on demolition. Estimated value of the salvageable historic materials is $50,000-$85,000.
“It doesn’t have to be a total waste,” Westfahl added.
The historic Canadian County Jail, located at Rogers and Evans next to the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office, is near the Canadian County Courthouse and Administration Building.
The old jail building and carriage house (stables) were leased to Preservation El Reno in 1995. The stables were renovated and are being used by the nonprofit organization.
But the old jail building has sat vacant for an extended period.
“About four years ago, we recognized the need to put a new roof on there,” said Anderson, the District 2 commissioner. “Preservation El Reno pursued that somewhat, but lack of funds kept them from putting a new roof on that building.”
Preservation El Reno officials approached Canadian County commissioners asking the county to pay for the roof work.
“At that time, I felt like the building was important enough to at least try to preserve it,” Anderson added.
After approving a partial release of the building lease in March 2022, Canadian County commissioners solicited contractors to repair the roof – but received no bids.
That’s when they decided to hire Redhawk and Westfahl to evaluate the building structurally.
Canadian County previously budgeted $100,000 for a roof repair, which Anderson emphasized is not nearly enough to pay for the upgrades.
County officials have started their fiscal year 2024 budget process, and commissioners will decide whether to set aside funds for this historic jail renovation.
Chairman Anderson wants to ensure he and fellow Commissioners Tracey Rider and Tom Manske make a “good use of public funds” as they explore their options.
“We’re just talking about a lot of money to keep something to look at,” he said.