NEW CUMBERLAND - It used to be referred to jokingly as the "Hancock Hilton," but those days are long gone.
The Hancock County Jail, or what's left of it, has been substantially reduced in size to make room for new offices and amenities for the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.
The remodeling project will usher in a new era of law enforcement for Hancock County, Sheriff Mike White said, even if old habits die hard.
Hancock County Sheriff Mike White, left, talks to Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county's Office of Technology and Communications, on the newly-remodeled second floor of the Hancock County Courthouse on Friday. The sheriff's department is preparing to move all its offices to the second floor in early October. -- Stephen Huba
"I keep calling it the jail floor," he said, chuckling.
That's because since the courthouse annex was completed in 1968, its second floor was dedicated jail space. That changed in 1994, when the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville opened, and Hancock County prisoners began to serve their sentences there.
"This was all wasted space because we couldn't house people here anymore," White said. "So we pushed to get it remodeled."
With completion of the project just days away, the second floor of the Hancock County Courthouse and Jail will be open to the public for the first time. White said he expects all the sheriff's department offices, currently split between the first and second floors, to move by early October.
Contractors are putting the finishing touches on the second floor, and $14,793 in office furniture is scheduled to arrive in about 10 days, White said.
"It'll make it a better working environment because there'll be so much more space," he said. "It'll make a big difference."
Phase one of the remodeling project, completed last year, included the construction of six new jail cells, a prisoner processing room, a squad room and some offices. Phase two will add more offices, an interview room, a conference room, a bathroom with showers, a jail administrator's office with surveillance equipment, an evidence processing area, a supply room and a break area.
"All of (the sheriff's) administrative people will be on the same floor as the officers, as well as his investigators," Hancock County Commissioner Jeff Davis said. "This way they're all together - a total law enforcement office."
The space open to the general public will be handicapped-accessible via the elevator and will be separate from the jail, which is the high-security section of the second floor, White said.
Prisoners can be held at the jail for no more than 10 hours now, White said. Most are kept there temporarily while awaiting transport to the Northern Regional Jail or a scheduled court appointment in New Cumberland.
While helping the county further adjust to the state's regional jail system, the newly remodeled second floor also will accommodate the changing investigative needs of the sheriff's department, Davis said.
"We had investigators working on child abuse cases who didn't have adequate facilities to take reports from the children. We have other investigators, when the public comes in, who had limited space to work in," Davis said. "I've seen our officers sitting out in the hall on the bench and talking to a person filing a complaint."
All that will change with the new facility, Davis said. There's an interview room with video cameras, and there's an office specifically designed for the deputy who handles child abuse cases.
"This kind of secures things and gives them privacy to work out of," he said.
With a price tag of $467,000, the renovation is being paid for by the county with the help of an $80,000 grant from the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority, Davis said.
White said the first-floor space being vacated will likely be used for early voting purposes.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)