Let’s not knee-jerk on the jail

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Within the next few weeks, Chatham-Kent council will be expected to render a decision on whether or not it wants to assume ownership of the historic Kent County Jail and onetime Chatham courthouse.

The courthouse, a 1950s era facility, has been vacant since 2003; while the jail, which predates the courthouse by a century, was formally closed last year.

The historical significance of the building can’t be understated. It was a prerequisite for Kent County to become a political entity.

Without that sense of urgency, we may have become part of Lambton or Essex. Prior to the 1850s, the seat of local government for this area was Sandwich, now known as Windsor.

Chatham Mazda from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.

Despite its importance, there seems to be little appetite for taking on the jail as municipal property. The price hasn’t been set yet, but the consensus is that we have enough municipal initiatives of questionable financial benefit already to go seeking more.

There is always the possibility a private investor may have a use for the facility that both preserves its heritage and provides it with a future.

If such a creature exists, it would be hoped the municipality would be approached in confidence.

In the meantime there is nothing that stops the municipality, the Friends of The Chatham Courthouse and other local interested parties in pooling hopes, dreams and plans for the structure.

The time to do that is now.

The province, which owns the facility, has to follow protocol on building disposal, but at some point there will occur a hard and fast deadline.

If there is any hope of keeping the building from falling into disrepair and eventually being demolished, it lies in discussion and planning.

A logical business plan must be prepared in order to secure whatever funding may be available from senior levels of government.

It’s not as if such money doesn’t exist. The federal government spent $16 million in three months alone touting its economic action plan. Agriculture Canada handed a Brampton food company $826,000 to develop a sausage that wouldn’t pop open when cooked; and of course we have the Senate.

The truth (and the money) is out there.

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