Canadian County Commissioners hear advice about historic jail rehab

Construction manager reviewing bids for building ‘stabilization’

Yukon’s Erick Westfahl, of Redhawk Construction Inc., stands in front of the historic county jail at the corner of Rogers and Evans in El Reno. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

EL RENO – Canadian County Commissioners heard suggestions this week about how to proceed with a possible rehabilitation of the historic county jail.

Constructed more than 100 years ago, the county-owned building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The old jail is at the corner of Rogers and Evans next to the renovated stables near the Canadian County Courthouse and Administration Offices.

The long-vacant building sorely needs a new roof and windows.

“With every rain, we have water coming into the building, and it’s causing more deterioration,” construction manager Erick Westfahl said during the July 17th commissioners’ meeting. “We have pigeons that continue to come in and out.

“We need to close in the roof, then we need to close in the windows. We need to stop the rains and the pigeons from getting in the building. And we need to clean up the debris that’s left over.”

Westfahl, of Redhawk Construction, is evaluating re-roofing proposals submitted by two companies before he “comes up with a game plan” on any repairs and/or renovations.

“We’re looking for these numbers to establish a clear budget,” he said. “We don’t anticipate, from our original estimates, to do an entire restoration. Stabilization is a better word for this.”

The competitive bids were opened during Monday morning’s weekly commissioners’ meeting, but action was tabled so Westfahl could review them before making his recommendation.

The contractors submitted prices for framing, sheathing and roofing; along with demolition of existing components.

One of the bidders also provided prices for masonry repairs, new windows, doors, bars, and optional painting.

After receiving input from a structural engineer, Westfahl on May 22 gave commissioners a $550,000 preliminary budget estimate to shore up the structure and restore the exterior with a new roof, sheathing and masonry repairs.

The construction manager emphasized this would make the historic jail “look good from the outside” – but the building could not be occupied.

Curtis Blanc

Curtis Blanc, an El Reno businessman and civic leader, suggested using some of the building’s original materials to develop a tribute and plaza that tells the history of the former jail site.

“We’ve been talking about this a long, long time,” Blanc said. “It appears to me, with construction costs today, that we may have passed the point of return for restoring that historic jail to its original purpose, its original construction.”

Blanc believes local historians could come up with some “great renderings and great ideas” for a new tribute and plaza. The history of this old county jail can be preserved without having the restore the structure, he added.

“Maybe we have horse-and-buggy rides that goes with our trolley and with the facelift that we’re getting ready to do with Route 66 that ties all this together,” Blanc said. “Maybe our sheriff’s department would like to have a small division of mounted (deputies) that goes in there – for big parades and large events.

“If we develop something the community would be really interested in, would want to participate in and feels like is an asset, I think it would be easy to accomplish. And all the financing burden wouldn’t have to be on the county. We have a lot of people in the community who’d like to give to something like that – if they could see it.”



If a renovation project is cost-prohibitive, Canadian County Commissioners could decide to demolish the entire building.

“I’d hate to see it cleared off and people just look at a slab,” said Betty Johnston, president of Preservation El Reno. “At least keep the facade.

“The cells in there are so interesting. (Sheriff) Chris West showed us – there was one lever that pulled the whole thing down and locked it all up.”

Johnston asked Canadian County Commissioners to provide Preservation El Reno with a dollar amount needed for a fund-raising campaign so they could “go to these larger companies and banks” for help.

Her organization raised funds to preserve and restore the old stables, also known as the carriage house.

Johnston referred to the City of El Reno’s efforts that financed restoration of the cinema theater downtown.

“That’s a big draw,” she said. “They didn’t do it all at one time. There were monies coming in, some from the hotel-motel (tax) and some from contributions.

“It took a while, but they did get it lighted up and got it done. It’s a main attraction now.”

Preservation El Reno members believe a restored historic Canadian County Jail – just a couple blocks from Route 66 – would be another major tourist attraction for people traveling along the Mother Road.

The preliminary cost estimate for the historic jail rehab project did not include sanitation cleanup, which would be required for restoration.

Renovating the interior for public use would require a much larger financial investment because of deterioration to the structure on all sides.

Redhawk’s Westfahl previously told commissioners the estimated value of the building’s salvageable historic materials was $50,000-$85,000.