CHRISTIANSBURG — A small group with ties to the downtown are urging Montgomery County officials to try to save the old sheriff’s office and an adjacent structure known as the Phlegar building.
The two buildings, located just off the corner of South Franklin and East Main streets, were each described as historically significant during speeches this past week to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and Christiansburg Town Council.
The push to save the buildings comes as the county is looking at moving its magistrate’s and court services offices to the tract currently occupied by the Phlegar building and old sheriff’s office.
Historic preservation projects would also aid ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown, speakers said.
The Phlegar building, also referred to as the courthouse annex and the old clerk’s office, had long been targeted for demolition due to difficulties with maintaining the structure. County officials say it faces health and safety challenges due to the existence of elements such as black mold, lead and asbestos.
The Phlegar building was built during the early 1800s and previously served as an office for attorneys who became prominent public figures.
“It is the oldest remaining government building in the county,” Sherry Joines Wyatt, curator at the Montgomery Museum of Art & History, told supervisors on Monday night.
Among its past occupants were former Secretary of the Navy William Ballard Preston and former Virginia Supreme Court Justice Waller R. Staples.
The building’s informal name comes from attorney Archer A. Phlegar, who served as a commonwealth’s attorney before becoming a Virginia Supreme Court justice at the turn of the 20th century.
Preston, Staples and Phlegar were each involved in the Confederacy — Preston and Staples as legislators and Phlegar as a captain in the Confederate Army.
The old sheriff’s office was built during the 1870s, about a century before it housed the local law enforcement agency, according to the museum. The structure also served as a law office earlier in its history and is informally referred to as the Taylor building in honor of former Virginia Attorney General James C. Taylor.
“It should be preserved, too,” said Bob Poff, the owner of the multi-story building across the street from the two historic properties. “Both of these buildings are two of the most important structures in downtown Christiansburg’s historic district.”
Poff joined Wyatt and Downtown Christiansburg Inc. President Justin Sanders during Monday’s presentation to supervisors. Poff addressed Christiansburg Town Council the following night.
On Tuesday night, town council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling on the county to try to save the structures.
“We need to work to preserve as many of these … buildings as we can downtown,” Christiansburg Mayor Mike Barber said. “That should be first and foremost … I’d hate to see the buildings go.”
Barber acknowledged that he has somewhat of a personal interest in saving the old sheriff’s office. He said his late brother, Louis Barber, was Montgomery County sheriff during the time that the building housed the law enforcement agency.
County supervisors are still mulling over whether to build a new structure in the old sheriff’s office’s place or to renovate the historic property.
Renovating the old sheriff’s building would cost approximately $1.3 million, according to recent figures from the county’s engineering consultant Thompson and Litton. On the other hand, demolition and construction of a new building would cost $1.9 million.
Even though a renovation would cost less, some county officials have said that a new building would require less intensive maintenance — and save on those expenses down the road.
The county has long looked at relocating its magistrate’s office closer to the jail in downtown.
Housed in a county-rented building across Franklin, the current location of the magistrate’s office has raised concerns among local authorities about the possibility of incidents such as arresting officer ambushes and prisoner escapes.
Placing the magistrate’s office in place of the old sheriff’s office has long been suggested by current Sheriff Hank Partin.
For the Phlegar building, Poff has offered to pay up to $7,500 for a study to determine if that structure is worth saving. At least a few county supervisors are receptive to his suggestion.
“I’m open to looking at it again,” Supervisor Mary Biggs said. “When we first discussed this, we had not heard from Bob [Poff] at the time.”
The deterioration of the Phlegar building is the result of the county not adequately funding maintenance of certain structures, Biggs said.
“That’s a tremendous offer he’s personally making,” Supervisor Chris Tuck said of Poff. “I have no reason to doubt him. That allows us to explore a lot of different possibilities.”
Tuck, who’s an attorney, has acknowledged having an emotional attachment to historic properties due, in part, to the fact that he studied history as an undergraduate.
Tuck said his role as a supervisor prompts him to be more pragmatic when it comes to matters of significant financial impact. But he said knowing that there could still be a way to save an otherwise costly building — the Phlegar structure — puts him more at ease.