The Knox County Commissioners remain committed to helping fix up the county’s old poor farm.
Commissioners Kellie Streeter and Trent Hinkle — commissioner Tim Ellerman couldn’t be there — met in special session Thursday morning to take a look at the upcoming 2021 spending plan.
Among the topics of conversation was the commissioners’ plan for the expenditure of the county’s share of Economic Development Income Tax dollars.
Every year, the commissioners come up with a detailed plan — a kind of budget within a budget — to spend those monies, a plan that the county council will have to eventually approve.
And they’d like to designate at least some money in the 2021 EDIT plan to help Andy Barmes, a local contractor, who has stepped up and offered to take on the historic building and transform it into a hospice house.
The commissioners have long said they believe themselves at least partly to blame for the building’s deplorable condition.
“I think we’re obligated to at least fix the roof,” said Hinkle during the special budget session Thursday. “That building, time and again, has fallen through the cracks.
“And now Andy has come along.”
The commissioners this spring voted to give the deed to the 140-year-old Victorian building on Hart Street Road to Andy and Angie Barmes, a contractor and local nurse.
Then, in May, the Barmeses went back before the commissioners asking for financial assistance in fixing its roof.
The damage, Andy Barmes told the commissioners, is extensive — but the commissioners already knew that.
They agreed the county had neglected the building for years, essentially left it to the elements to rot.
They even collected an estimated $40,000 insurance settlement on the poor farm back in 2008 after a severe storm damaged the roof, as well as several other county buildings, Ellerman said, adding that the money, he believes, went into the county’s General Fund.
Initially, the commissioners thought to give Barmes upwards of $250,000 to make repairs. They were going to take the request before the county council for consideration, but several council members quickly said, although not publicly, that they likely wouldn’t be on board with such an expenditure.
So the commissioners, as budget time begins yet again, have looked to their own EDIT plan as a way to get it done.
Hinkle said he’s been looking at unspent funds and found at least $150,000 that could pay for a new roof, specifically unspent money dedicated to property clean up ($110,000) as well as $40,000 that will be saved in 2021 as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, after many years, has opted to abandon some ground water monitoring wells near the highway department.
Hinkle, too, suggested that the commissioners seek bids and pay for the roof repair themselves as opposed to writing a check to Barmes directly.
And he said the commissioners really should offer an additional $5,000 for the removal of some asbestos.
“Because we’d have to do that regardless of whether we tear it down or give it away,” he said.
Due to time constraints, the commissioners had to abandon their discussions Thursday, but both Hinkle and Streeter seem dedicated to still finding a way to help the Barmeses.
And Ellerman, even though not in attendance Thursday, agrees.
“I just really feel like the county is obligated to do that,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do because (Barmes) is taking on something we would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to tear down.”
Ellerman, also a local contractor, went on to say he’s spoken recently with Barmes and even taken a peak at some clean up work that’s been done at the old poor farm so far.
Ellerman said Barmes
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has stripped the walls in a number of rooms as well as taken off some unsafe porches.
Anything more, however, will first require getting a new roof on the structure.
“You gotta get it dry,” Ellerman said matter-of-factly. “Doing anything before you get a roof on it, you’d just be shooting yourself in the foot.”
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The Barmeses are the latest among many who have looked at the facility with a desire to re-purpose it.
Most recently, the commissioners rejected a proposal from Adam Kimmell, producer and director of “Resident Undead,” a paranormal documentary show on You Tube.
The Pennsylvania-based ghost hunter first expressed his desire last fall to take over the old poor farm, turning it onto a ghost-hunting attraction, but the commissioners just wouldn’t get on board.
Years ago, the commissioners gave the deed to the poor farm — with stipulations — to local pastor Sandy Ivers as she hoped to turn it into a shelter for women.
The project was largely forgotten, that is until Kimmell’s unexpected request caused the commissioners to look more closely into that agreement to see if it was still valid, especially since the property was still in a serious state of disrepair.
But Ivers eventually said she was no longer interested in the building and it reverted back to the county.
The county’s poor farm served as a home for the less fortunate until the 1920s, when it was turned over to Purdue University and converted into a “model farm,” an early predecessor to the current extension system.
Later, the building was used as office space for KCARC, during which the organization paid for many improvements to the aging structure, including putting in a new heating system, plumbing and electrical, all while leasing it to the county.
Eventually, KCARC let its lease with the county run out, and the building has been abandoned since.