Lutz: department navigating temporary loss of jail, inmates housed around region


By Staff Report

As the historic Masonic Temple went up into flames late Thursday night, it became almost immediately apparent that the county jail, located right next door, would need to be evacuated.

Correction officers and road deputies rushed to help bring inmates out of the building and into the connected Muskingum County Courthouse and Law Administration Building.

By Friday, those buildings had also been cleared with inmates housed at various other facilities around both the county and region.

The concern for many officials, including Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz, is when the Masonic Temple will be razed so that additional work and inspections can be done to neighboring utilities and buildings, including the county jail.

According to Lutz, the fire, which was first reported around 10:45 p.m. Thursday, occurred right around shift change, which meant that there were two shifts of corrections staff and two shifts of road deputies immediately available to assist with evacuating the jail.

“Our supervisors, our employees, did just an amazing phenomenal job on getting the jail evacuated,” said Lutz. “I have to also take my hat off to the inmates as well, it was a very bad situation, they could have made it a lot worse and they didn’t, so everything went really well, as well as could be that night.”

Due to the heroic actions of firefighters, the blaze was able to be contained to the Masonic Temple, which also meant that the County Courthouse and Law Administration Building were capable of temporarily housing inmates until they could be transported elsewhere.

Juvenile Detention Center Superintendent Alan Bennett and Muskingum County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Eric Martin, according to Lutz, were able to clear a pod at the Juvenile Detention Center so that all the county’s female inmates could be housed there, safely away from the male inmates.

The City of Zanesville Jail also took a number of inmates as well. The rest were transported to Noble County, Guernsey County, Licking County and Franklin County to each of their respective jails.

Locally, at both the City Jail and Juvenile Detention Center, county corrections staff is overseeing the prisoners.

“If this situation remains as it is and turns into a lengthy stay for those prisoners out of our county or out of our jail then I expect the cost to total up,” said Lutz. “Normally it’s anywhere from $65 to $100 a day per inmate, so if you figure up, even on the low end, it’s $6,500 a day.”

Lutz didn’t have an exact current to-date cost, partially in the hopeful stance that if the situation is resolved soon, other facilities won’t charge Muskingum County for the expense.

Zanesville Mayor Don Mason had hinted at such a reality in a recent interview saying that they are very fortunate to have such a great relationship with the county and that the money all would eventually come from local taxpayers.

“We are blessed that we have wonderful cooperation with Muskingum County government at all levels,” said Mason. “The City is working with the county to house their inmates as well as their staff along with food provisions. We are all working together as we realize we all spend the same local tax dollars, whether it comes to the county in terms of sales tax or the city in terms of income tax, the bottom line is we are trying to spend taxpayer dollars effectively.”

Food for inmates at the City Jail had previously been prepared by Aramark Food Services staff at the Muskingum County Jail then transported to the city-owned jail attached to the Zanesville Police and Fire Building.

Currently, with the Masonic Temple still smoldering, according to Mason, fire commanders still have control of the scene.

Lutz said that once that hold is released and the building is razed, at least below three floors, they will be able to conduct a more detailed check of the County Jail’s structure. Initial observations do not show any such damage.

There is also no smoke smell on the inside of the building, Lutz added, but there are windows on at least one floor of the north-facing alley adjacent to the Masonic Temple that will need to be examined.

“It will all need to be checked and made sure it’s safe and secure,” said Lutz. “At this time we are playing off the idea that as soon as the Masonic Temple wall is down far enough to take away the threat of doing damage to our jail, and once AEP has electric back on to run our boiler, to get the heat back up, we are playing the card that we will be able to go back in with inmates and be able to carry on our businesses, provided we don’t find anything wrong after inspecting it.”

A full evacuation of the county jail is a very uncommon event. Lutz said it hasn’t been evacuated in at least the last 13 years. Research by Y-City News yielded no such reports in the past few decades, at least not evacuations that made it into the news.

Lutz, who has advocated for a new county jail, said that any sort of issue, such as having to evacuate due to a fire or power loss, could exist at both the current jail or a future proposed one.

“You could have any kind of problem with a new building just as much as you could have with a building that is as old as our jail that’s sitting beside a building as old as the Masonic Temple,” said Lutz. “The only thing I would say is if a new jail, if we would have had a new jail, that it probably would have been built in a location where there wouldn’t have been anything around it that might of put it in damage, as we have right now, the electric part of it could also go out with big storms.”

Plans previously presented would have had a new one-level jail located out somewhere near the Sheriff’s Office and the Juvenile Detention Center, but Lutz remarked that there are also advantages to a downtown jail, such as being connected to the courthouse.

In this particular situation, as Lutz added, having a downtown jail gave them additional places to move inmates.

Lutz ended by saying he is very thankful for all of the first responders, including the Zanesville Fire Department, that helped that night. Christ’s Table and the Senior Center helped provide food. Zanesville City Schools and SEAT provided vehicles for transports.

“Just a lot of people that called and said ‘whatever you need it’s yours’ and we really appreciate that,” said Lutz. “We value the cooperation and friendships that we have with other businesses, other elected officials and other agencies in the county.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, it remains unclear when the Masonic Temple will be razed. Until then, electricity can not be restored to the Muskingum County Jail, Courthouse or Law Administration Buiding, according to comments made by officials previously.