THE GOSHEN NEWS
The former Elkhart County Jail on north Third Street has many hidden places inside the structure for training purposes with local law enforcement agencies.
It also hides something that Elkhart County Administrator Tom Byers would like to see out of his office window.
“I can’t see the beautiful courthouse across the street (because) this is in the way,” Byers said, pointing to the partially empty building that also houses the Elkhart County Juvenile Detention Center.
It’s not a pleasant walk through the building that was vacated after the Elkhart County Criminal Justice Complex was completed nearly six years ago.
Signs of K-9 and tactical training can be seen with empty shell casings strewn over the floors and hallways by local law enforcement agencies. Police still use the shooting range in the winter, Byers added.
There’s red paint, simulating blood, splattered and smeared on door frames, walls and floors. Red paint even appears to be cascading outwardly on the floor from the inside of some jail cells.
“I don’t know what they do with it (red paint),” said Matt Grubb, director of building and grounds for Elkhart County, “I just know they do training in here and I don’t want to be around.”
The four-story building has the appearance of disaster aftermath with piles of debris to walk around, peeling paint and holes in the ceilings and walls from the removal of equipment, including electronic devices and furniture.
Grubb has directed the removal of many of the stainless steel urinals and combination sink and toilet fixtures — which are reusable and worth about $3,200 — for use in other county facilities, but not at the new jail.
He’s left one item behind in the empty jail cells, however.
“The mirrors aren’t worth the manpower to remove,” Grubb said. “They were just buffed stainless steel.”
Grubb was asked if the rumor that there was a tunnel from the jail to the Goshen courthouse was true or not.
“Yes, it is true and it was used about 20 to 25 years ago. It’s not in use anymore,” Grubb said, smiling, and showing the area where the tunnel entrance was covered up.
The old visitor’s area consists of a small narrow blue room with eight steel stools facing windows where the prisoners would sit in their secured area on the first floor. An elevator was used to transport inmates from their cells to the visiting area in a group by the correctional officers.
“It doesn’t look like it was a good situation for correctional officers,” Grubb said. “It’s better in the new jail now with the video presentation for visitation. There’s no transport of prisoners.”
The boiler system in the basement is still heating and cooling the juvenile center, he added. There were many bare areas where the carpet was removed and used in the juvenile center and other facilities, as well.
Many of the cells have markings on the doors and floors from past prisoners. In the maximum area, inmates stayed in a 5-foot by 10-foot cell with two bunks. A confinement cell had a door with a cover that lifted up and down for the correctional officer to look inside at the inmates.
The windows in the cells located along the exterior walls measured about 12 inches horizontally. There were no windows in some of the cells except for the end of the room overlooking the current county building to the west.
On the fourth floor of the building, the cells housed four inmates. The jail was designed for a capacity of 315 prisoners.
“The level of security (for an inmate) depended on what (charges) you would have,” Byers said.
What does Elkhart County plan to do with the building?
“There has been no definitive plan established, but most suggestions have been directed at razing the building,” Byers said. “Someone would have to pump a lot of money into the facility to make it usable and I am not sure there would be an adequate return on the investment. If it is razed, there are no plans at this point as to what would take its place. Informal suggestions have ranged from creating a park-like open space to building a county office building.”