County documenting artwork in old county jail to preserve historical record

Cascade County has hired a photographer to document artwork painted on the walls of the old county jail by inmates in years past as the county is moving to cleanup and repurpose the building in the future.

Commissioner Jane Weber said the county has been working through the process of identifying hazardous materials in the building and last month conducted testing of materials, which found asbestos, lead paint and a small amount of mercury.

County inspecting old jail for hazardous materials with GFDA grant funding

Since the project is so far being funded by funds through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the building is included in the northside Great Falls district that is on the National Register of Historic Places, any remediation work will require a determination from the state preservation office that cleanup won’t have an adverse impact on the historical impact of the building.

The photographs will preserve the artwork as part of the historical record, Weber said, in the event that the interior needs to be changed to be reused.

Since there’s lead paint on the old jail cell bars they need to be removed, Weber said, and it wouldn’t make sense to have the cells for most potential future uses.

“It’s a mess in there,” she said. “It’s never going to be a jail again. So we’re changing it, but we’d have to change it to repurpose it.”

Weber said she contacted three local photographers and submitted bids for the project. Roland Taylor was the low bidder, for under $2,000, Weber said, and he was in the building working this week.

The county received a $12,000 grant from the Great Falls Development Authority for a hazardous materials inspection at the old county jail and that work has been completed.

Now, to move to the next step and request a request to GFDA for additional Brownfield funding for the abatement work, the county has to get the determination from the state historic preservation office, Weber said, as well as bids for the abatement.

There are still no definitive plans for future use of the building, but Weber told The Electric in April that, “my dream is to convert the building as an extension of our justice campus (the courthouse), making room if this county is mandated to have an additional District Court judge. We have the space in the old jail to move folks not associated with District Court just across the street (into the old jail). The jail and courthouse are companion buildings constructed of the same style and era and materials. There were conceptual drawings done by LPW before I was a county commissioner. Again, they have never been approved by the commission, but we can’t move forward with any re-purposing until the hazmat issue is resolved.”