Window to the past: SPLOST would help complete history center

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Brian Brown with Beatty Construction preps window frames for new window installation at the historic jail on Stallings Street.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Brian Brown with Beatty Construction preps window frames for new window installation at the historic jail on Stallings Street.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a multi-part series on projects that will be funded if SPLOST 2011 is approved by voters in the March 15 Special Election. The SPLOST is expected to generate $57.6 million over a six-year collection period.

COVINGTON -- The renovation of the historic jail on Stallings Street got started with help from SPLOST 2005. Now, $1.2 million in SPLOST 2011 revenues will finish the job.

Ultimately, the jail will be converted into a history center to preserve Newton County's past. But extensive renovations must take place first. A $500,000 allocation from SPLOST 2005, coupled with donations from the Newton County Historical Society and others, has funded exterior renovations.

A construction crew is installing a porch, new roof, windows, doors and gutters. Environmental abatement and non-historic demolition have been completed on the structure. A grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs funded a strategic plan for the history center, allowing the county to hire a museum consultant, and also paid for a kiosk to be installed outside the building in May that will highlight sites of historic significance to the north, south, east and west of the building.

Work on the renovation has been slow, due to a number of factors, Special Projects Coordinator Cheryl Delk said.

"This was not a bonded project. We had to wait for SPLOST dollars to accrue ... There were multiple projects trucking along at the same time," Delk said. "We did the administration building and the infrastructure projects first and we were waiting for this money to accrue."

The death of the original architect also created a delay. A new architect, Ron Dimery of Dimery and Associates of Oxford, has been hired.

SPLOST 2011 will complete the interior work on the building, including restoration and if needed, replacement of the heart pine floor, work on the heating and air and plumbing, and pay for startup costs for the center.

Delk said it will likely be several more years before the project is complete, as commissioners have elected not to bond any projects on this SPLOST, meaning the money will have to be in hand before the work can begin.

The jail was built in 1901 and was designed by J.W. Golucke, the most prolific architect of Georgia's courthouses, having designed more than two dozen.

"The citizens can be real proud that we've stabilized that building and saved the building," Delk said.

Clara Deemer, director of tourism for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said the history center will be a draw for visitors to the area.

"The renovation of the jail will allow visitors interested in history an opportunity to see a part of Newton County's past that has not been available before," Deemer said. "The upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War will bring many visitors to our area and the history center will give people another site to visit. Visitors bring clean tax dollars to our community. They stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, fill their gas tanks and shop in our stores and then leave. They do not require additional infrastructure, police or fire assistance. Visitors help relieve the tax burden on locals by spending their dollars in our businesses."