Jerry Bartruff is hoping sections of the former Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison can be put to use by the community, but until then, the upkeep will cost the state money.
When the facility was full of prisoners earlier this year, the bill for its basic maintenance was around $60,000 a month. “I think it’s down to about half of that now,” Bartruff said. “We’re still utilizing that space to get stuff out of and cleaning up some of the areas that may be useful. There’s no staff assigned there, but we do make rounds to make sure pipes aren’t bursting and that kind of thing.”
In August, more than 500 inmates were moved out of the 176-year-old prison and into a new state penitentiary about two miles away. Bartruff addressed the future of the old facility this week during a budget hearing at the statehouse. “There are some parts of that facility that could be used and have multiple purposes, I think, from an economic and historical kind of perspective,” Bartruff said. “But, there are other things inside that building that need to go away and aren’t safe.”
Bartruff said he met with the mayor of Fort Madison to discuss the matter on Monday. A nonprofit group has also been formed that’s interested in turning parts of the old prison into a tourist attraction. “There is a gymnasium, volleyball courts, and some outdoor recreation activities that could become part of what the City of Fort Madison could use. They’re looking at the whole site, but the focus right now is the historical significance of that old penitentiary,” Bartruff said.
The old Iowa State Penitentiary was originally built in 1839. Bartruff said sections of the building will need to be demolished.