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Haddam’s Historic Jail Building Update

By Meghan Peterson, PhD.

Recently, Haddam Now caught up with Jeffry Muthersbaugh, Chair of the Buildings Committee here in town. We discussed updates regarding the historic Haddam Jail (located on the eponymous Jail Hill Road) as well as the Jail Open House held in April. This article will cover the first topic.

According to Muthersbaugh, “misinformation” has been circulating “about what is going on with the Jail,” and that he “wants to set the record straight for residents.” Contrary to the misconception that the Buildings Committee has “made its mind up” in terms of how to reuse the Jail, Muthersbaugh states that this claim “could not be farther from the truth.”

He recalls from previous meetings of the Buildings Committee during then-First Selectwoman Melissa Schlag’s tenure, when Ed Schwing chaired the Committee, that “Schlag and Schwing discussed what to do in the event an RFP [a Request For Proposal] came back with a recommendation that they did not like or want.” Furthermore, Muthersbaugh recalls that Schlag and Schwing wanted the Jail to become a museum, and that in fact “their minds had already been made up.”

Muthersbaugh explains that when he took over as Chair of the Committee, three core guidelines First Selectwoman Lizz Milardo wanted them to work with were: 1) the building must be accessible to the townspeople; 2) if possible, preserve some kind of museum component to the building; 3) no more Haddam taxpayer dollars go into it. Then, the Committee went out for an RFP that would evaluate the structure, the environmental issues and prepare a marketing report which would suggest possible reuse of the building. Fuss and O’Neill was selected, and the firm subsequently spoke with residents and asked for ideas about what to do with the Jail. Finally, Fuss & O’Neill has recommended that the following reuse(s) of the Jail:

An upscale restaurant on the Jail side (left side of the building, if you are looking at the building from Route 154/Saybrook Road)

Mixed use on the right side of the building (as there is not much by way of historical components to it anymore; not losing a lot by way of historical value, according to Muthersbaugh)

Muthersbaugh says that the Buildings Committee does not have a vested interest in what the Jail becomes. Rather, it wants what is best for the building, the townspeople, and the Town as a whole. Having served as Chairman of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and currently serving on its Board of Trustees, Muthersbaugh believes that a museum would not be self-sustaining. As Muthersbaugh puts it, converting the Jail into a usable fashion would take approximately $4 million; it would seem that a museum would simply not be able to raise those funds nor be self-sustaining. Worse, a museum is “the least money-generating option you can pursue.” Muthersbaugh says that “the idea is instead to attract an investor who will find the building appealing – as opposed to a money pit. The idea is to keep it open and viable.”

Looking ahead, Muthersbaugh reports that the Committee will meet with the State this month to see what other grants may be available for the purpose of conducting further remediation to the building. As Muthersbaugh explains, any further remediation work done to the Jail will assist in attracting investors, as doing so can reduce a buyer’s upfront costs and therefore make investment in the Jail more appealing.

Moreover, Muthersbaugh makes clear that “the Committee is intent on its mission to go out for RFP for reuse proposals and see what people are interested in doing. If some millionaire is a jail aficionado and wants to turn it into a museum and prove its viability, have at it. The Committee does not care as long as it [the reuse] is viable, the public has access [to it], and that NO MORE taxpayer dollars are spent on it.” He further emphasizes that “our minds” on the Committee “are totally open,” and that “we do not have preconceived notions.”

Muthersbaugh adds that although there has “been much press regarding the Building Committee and the Haddam Jail” in the Haddam Bulletin, neither Ed Schwing, Editor of the Bulletin, nor Melissa Schlag, staff member of the Bulletin and Haddam Selectwoman, has reached out to him or any other Committee member for information and answers to questions they may have. “As a consequence, the Bulletin’s articles on the Jail and its reuse lack facts and are explicitly misleading.”

To this end, Muthersbaugh indicates in strong terms that the Committee as a matter of record would “love to see preservation of historical aspects to the Jail.” He points out the composition of the Committee as playing a vital role in this goal: “among the many talented members of the Committee, we have Lisa Malloy, Director of the Haddam Historical Society; Jan Sweet, who was former director of HHS; Patrick Pinnell, a gifted architect; and myself, who once chaired the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation…the Committee is indeed focused on appreciating and conserving our Town’s history.” For example, he says that one vision could be that as people enter the lobby, there “could be an interpretative [historical] exhibit and then eating areas in the jail cell areas…perhaps old photographs of the Jail as art throughout the building as well.”

Elizabeth Malloy, Director of the Haddam Historical Society (HHS), provides important historical details to know about the Jail, explaining that the “Middlesex County Jail in Haddam is one of the community’s most important architectural and historical buildings and could be adaptively reused for multi-functions including cultural, commercial or residential. The jail played an important role in the development of Haddam and is the best example of a building erected of Haddam granite. In addition, the history and stories of the jail, inmates, and staff provide a fascinating and informative look at the transformation of the criminal justice and penal systems in Connecticut and United States in the 18th through 20th centuries.” She adds, “HHS hopes that any future use of the jail respects and utilizes the buildings distinctive materials, features, spaces and that the historic character of the property will be retained and preserved.”

In closing, Muthersbaugh further states, “We are very fortunate to have such an historic structure in our town. The ‘Jail Committees’ before us have worked hard and the people of Haddam have been very generous with their tax dollars in putting on a new roof, re-glazing windows and doing the things necessary to stabilize the building. Now it is time to find a viable use, whatever that may be, that will make it self-sustaining and provide access and benefit to the Town.”

*Haddam News also reached out to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation for comment but not had yet received a response at press time.

Photos by Jeff Muthersbaugh.

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