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Cass jail demolition faces snag

The State Historical Society of North Dakota must approve Cass County's plans to demolish its old jail and sheriff's residence, according to the state board's director.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota must approve Cass County's plans to demolish its old jail and sheriff's residence, according to the state board's director.

The site is "significant in understanding and interpreting the history of the state," wrote Merlan Paaverud in a letter to Cass County Commission Chairman Alon Wieland. As a result, the buildings receive protection under state law.

"We want to know what their intentions are and to discuss with them options for preservation," Paaverud said.

Cass County commissioners said the state board is aware of the county's intentions -- a state staff member was at the meeting in May 2001 when the official decision was made.

They say they have carefully researched other options.


But "... due to the condition of the basic construction material in the buildings, and the long-term interests of the residents and taxpayers of Cass County, (the commission) is proceeding with replacing the structures," wrote Wieland to Paaverud in a letter that crossed paths with the state's letter.

The state agency took action after the Fargo Historic Preservation Commission formally asked it to intervene and delay the demolition.

The commission asked the state to get involved because the buildings stand in Fargo, but the city doesn't have jurisdiction over them.

"Our hope is (the state society) could exert some influence to make sure the county doesn't take an action that will be forever regretted," said Paul Gleye, chairman of the Fargo preservation group.

The brownstone jail and sheriff's residence were built in 1913. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a list that is more of an honorary designation than a protection status.

Commissioners say the buildings lack historical significance.

"The two buildings are very old, but they are conspicuously absent from the state historical register," said Commissioner Scott Wagner. "If they are deemed historically significant, why aren't they there?"

The fate of the buildings should be left to Cass County taxpayers and their elected representatives, he added.


"It's an issue of ownership," he said. "They're taking it out of the hands of the people who own the property."

A law says the state and its political subdivisions should cooperate with the director of the State Historical Society in identifying reasonable alternatives to the destruction or alteration of any historical sites.

"By statute, the county is required to go through this process with us," Paaverud said. The board could recommend preserving the buildings or, if a decision to tear them down is made, to reuse the building materials.

"Regardless, they need our approval, no matter what," he said.

In the letter to the state agency, the county said it has made plans to salvage half the buildings' sandstone, the copper door on the sheriff's residence, the jail banister and the sandstone nameplate. Those pieces would be incorporated into a new criminal courts building.

"We've informed them of our plans," Wieland said. "Now it's in their hands."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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