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Museum in need of renovations

WINDER - The oldest public building still standing in this city is facing a termite problem.

Luckily, they're eating the new wood at the Barrow County Museum - formerly the county jail - and not the base of the 90-year-old structure. But still, they're termites. If someone doesn't do something to stop them soon, who knows what will happen to the

structure.

That's the major problem, but there are smaller issues with the building, too. The roof needs to be repaired, high-efficiency lights and heating should be added and the museum needs plumbing upgrades.

Barrow County doesn't have the money to fix the problems, Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said, but he hopes to get funds for the repairs through grants. They've already brought in an architect to help them get money from the departments of Transportation and Natural Resources. Other local governments have already gotten money for similar projects, but Barrow has yet to do so.

"It's Barrow's turn," Architect Benjamin Carter of Carter Watkins Associates said. "Barrow hasn't gotten one."

The 1916 brick jail, complete with a never-used hanging tower, sits along Ga. Highway 211. Along with the county courthouse next door, it's on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for a Georgia Heritage Grant worth as much as $40,000. A T-Grant from the Department of Transportation could be worth $500,000 with a 20 percent match from the county. Those funds could be used because of the museum's location on a state route and also due to its function as a welcome center.

Inside the museum, some of the jail cells are still there. Photographs and newspaper clippings depicting the county's history line the walls, and the building is stuffed full of history - from an antique barber chair to military uniforms to two bales of cotton.

More than 700 people visit each year, Historical Society Trustee John Mobley said, including several student groups. Mobley and Historical Society President Bill Cook both said they would love if the money could help expand the facility, which doesn't have enough space to display all the artifacts it owns. But its location, next to the county's current jail, means there isn't much room to expand. They've even had to turn some things away because there's no more space for storage.

While the county is in the beginning stages of constructing a new courthouse and jail, Garrison said there are no plans to demolish the current jail. Because of its historic status, the outside of the museum will remain unchanged, even with the planned renovations. Building an indoor mezzanine is a possibility to add more space.

Cook said he is confident that the grants will be approved. If they aren't, he said, it will present a monumental problem.

"Frankly, we've almost hit a wall," he said. "It's deteriorating rather badly. Something has to be done to repair the building. We can't go on much longer."