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February 24. 2013 8:37PM

Commissioners recommend Grafton County jail demolition


The old Grafton County jail off Route 10 in North Haverhill has been replaced by a new $30 million jail in the same county complex. (BOB HOOKWAY PHOTO)

HAVERHILL - It looks as though proponents of knocking down the empty Grafton County jail are on the way to getting their wish.

The three Grafton County commissioners have decided to formally recommend the wrecking ball for the deteriorated 19th -century former lockup off Route 10 in North Haverhill, rather than continuing to seek alternative uses or trying to locate a buyer.

The commissioners have decided to ask their 27-member delegation for permission to take a portion of the $700,000 that's left over from building the new $30 million jail nearby at the county complex and raze the old one.

Grafton County Executive Director Julie Clough said last week that vote is likely to take place March 11 when the delegation members - all state representatives who live in the county - gather.

Commissioner Mike Cryans didn't need convincing. He's been calling for demolition all along. Former Commissioner Omer Ahern was alone on the commission over the past year or so in backing an alternative use for the site such as a homeless shelter.

But he since lost an election to new Commissioner Martha Richards who's in favor of demolition. The third member, Ray Burton, made the decision unanimous last month.

Burton is chairman of the committee that studied possible uses for the old jail, a portion of which dates to the Civil War.

In minutes of the commission's Jan. 29 meeting at which the decision was made Burton said Grafton County did not want to pass on the cost to rehabilitate the building to taxpayers.

Richards called the old jail a potential "money pit," in the minutes.

Former Commissioner Ahern attended that meeting, as well, and, according to the minutes, said the county had not performed sufficient due diligence in seeking alternative uses.

Burton's committee had little success finding anyone willing to buy the former jail. The members had been gathering ideas for a possible new use since 2011.

That was when three students from Dartmouth College's Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences who had been studying the matter brought their 19-page report to county officials. They said a community outreach center, a farm-to-school pilot program, a center for alternative energy research, a museum, or commercial use such as a restaurant were all possibilities for the old jail's future.

But the presentation lost some steam with Burton's committee members when the students disclosed the estimated $287,000 price tag for renovations to the old building, including a new roof.

Burton did suggest last month that, prior to demolition, photographs of various features of the old jail be made for historical purposes.

Rep. Linda Lauer, D-Bath, who was elected to the House in November, joined the county delegation's nine-member Executive Committee last month. She said last week she had not had a lot of time since then to examine the work of Burton's committee, but thought demolition seemed the most practical route.

"Considering the cost of maintaining that building, it seems like we're going to be throwing a lot of good money at it," she said.

Clough said demolition cost is not known yet, and said bids would not be solicited for that project until the delegation decides on the commissioners' request for financing.

bhookway@newstote.com


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