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Tolbert offers proposal to reconstruct downtown Charles Town

By Staff | Jan 25, 2019

Mike Tolbert presented this rendering to Jefferson County Commissioners advocating for the construction of a government complex in downtown Charles Town. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN – Charles Town resident Mike Tolbert came before the Jefferson County Commission Thursday with lofty plans for renovating government buildings in the center of Charles Town.

Tolbert indicated the current post office, which was the site of the jail that housed John Brown during his trial, is in disrepair and he proposed that it should be replaced. To that end, Tolbert said that one proposal would including replacing that building with an ADA-compliant structure. The building, he said, should resemble the original jail on the outside and include a museum on the inside with a re-creation of Brown’s jail cell.

A second, more elaborate proposal brought forth by Tolbert, included creating a modern county government complex in the downtown area.

“We should take the entire block,” Tolbert said, “and construct a modern facility while maintaining the exterior facades.”

The facility, for which Tolbert provided a rendering, would include a multi-story public parking complex and a skywalk across George Street.

Tolbert included a museum in the second proposal as well.

“We need to tell the historical story,” Tolbert stressed, saying to the commissioners, “This would be your legacy.”

Ralph Lorenzetti, elected to the commission in November, responded, “We’ve had previous renderings of courthouse designs. I don’t know the cost, but where does this money come from?”

Tolbert, who had expended effort in presenting his ideas, replied, “I don’t know, that’s on you.”

He followed by saying the City of Charles Town, where he serves as a councilman, borrowed the $4 million it cost to renovate Charles Washington Hall at the corner of Washington and George streets.

“I don’t know where you’d get it,” he repeated. “Maybe a bond. I’m just dropping this in your lap.”

Commission President Patsy Noland agreed that a county government complex is needed. She said the county had, at one time, a building fund toward that end; however, the money in that fund has gradually been spent on other things.

Commissioner Jane Tabb voiced concern over Tolbert’s proposal, fearing push-back from individuals opposed to tearing down or otherwise renovating structures in the downtown area. She referred to the battle which arose several years ago, when the county commission proposed tearing down the old jail that now houses the Circuit Court offices. A lengthy and expensive legal battle ensued when opponents to the demolition of the jail sought to stop the project.

No decisions were made regarding Tolbert’s proposal during the meeting.