Commission debates paving old jail’s lawn

ELLSWORTH — The Hancock County Commissioners on Tuesday discussed paving over the lawn at the old Hancock County Jail that abuts the courthouse.

The paving would create much needed parking spaces, the commissioners said.

The Ellsworth Historical Society owns the old jail building but just the building. The county owns the land around it. Hancock County gave the old jail to the historical society in 1997 with an understanding that the society would maintain the building.

But, the board said the society has not maintained the brick building, which is located at 40 State St. Loose bricks fall from the structure, presenting a liability problem for Hancock County, since the bricks, fall where they may, land on county property.

The most recent brick to fall out of the eaves of the old jail fell in January, according to Dennis Walls, who is the county facilities director.

Warning signs have been posted to keep people from parking along the side of the old jail, but few heed the signs.

So, the board directed Walls to erect barriers around the building to keep people and property safe. That has resulted in a loss of parking spaces. The area, which provides parking for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office and Hancock County Regional Communications Center, was already limited.

Putting netting around the brickwork — a temporary solution — would cost $15,000 to $17,000, according to County Administrator Scott Adkins. The Historical Society would have to fund that project since it owns the building.

So, at the commissioners’ regular monthly meeting, the commissioners considered a paving bid from R.F. Jordan and Sons Construction and discussed the issue.

“I think it’s just a shame,” said Commissioner Bill Clark. “The aesthetic value we have from the lawn compared with the hot top, there’s no comparison. You hot top that lawn out front and it’s a done deal forever. I think it’s a shame to have to do that. You’re never going to take that back up and plant grass.”

Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown said, “We have to look out for our liability issue. I’m serious about doing something up there.”

“I agree,” replied Commission Chairman Antonio Blasi.

Clark replied, “Paving the front isn’t going to reduce the liability of that building.”

Brown responded, “If they [the Historical Society] can solve the problem, we won’t have to do this. If someone gets hurt up there, we’ll have a serious liability issue even with it fenced off.”

Adkins said “for the commission to consider something like this is the responsible thing to do.”

While no members of the public attended this particular portion of the commissioners’ meeting, Mary Blackstone, chairwoman of the city of Ellsworth’s Green Plan Steering Committee, sent a letter expressing concern.

“This is an action that will have a detrimental impact on the character of downtown Ellsworth, something that organizations like the Heart of Ellsworth, the Ellsworth Garden Club, the city of Ellsworth and the Green Plan Steering Committee and others, not to mention the Historical Society, are working hard to address and enhance,” Blackstone wrote.

“To pave over the lawn in front of this very public structure would appear to fly in the face of these efforts, especially as we are in the process of drawing up a city green plan,” Blackstone said.

The commissioners took no action Tuesday but plan to revisit the issue at a July 25 meeting.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.