By Tina Comeau
Jail is going to become a large part of a former Yarmouth resident’s life, even though she’s never broken the law.
“To this day I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket,” says Mandy Rennehan.
But Rennehan isn’t going to jail.
Rather, she’s decided to own one.
More specifically, she has bought the old Yarmouth jail. She has big plans for the building, although she hasn’t settled on the final direction just yet. Many ideas are being tossed around.
A retreat. A high-end restaurant. A music hall. A little Jailhouse Rock, anyone?
Rennehan founded the company Freshco Maintenance and Construction in 1995. Services the company provides include retrofits, remodels, site drawings, demolition and architectural designs.
But while Rennehan says commercial work is her cash cow, her heart lies with the restoration of old buildings and homes.
So imagine her delight when driving along Main Street during a recent visit home and she sees there’s an old jail for sale. Rennehan is a true believer that timing is everything. She immediately arranged for a tour.
“I put in an offer and I bought it that day,” she says. “I didn’t hesitate. It just felt right.”
The jail had been listed for $60,000. While the selling price may have been a steal, the restoration cost won’t be. Rennehan figures this will be a two-year project that will cost around $1 million. But she’s not flinching.
“I’ve gotten to the point now financially, and I’m going to be 40 next year, that I had to start looking at giving back to Yarmouth because I love it there,” she says, explaining she left home 20 years ago with a suitcase and a smile. But while Yarmouth was part of her past, she wants to be part of Yarmouth’s future.
Rennehan notes that prior to driving by the jail on that fateful day, she had been having a conversation with her friend, Mayor Pam Mood. The revitalization of Yarmouth came up. That conversation, coupled with Rennehan’s passion for restoration, just made the jail opportunity too good to pass up.
The old jail was built in 1865. When the Southwest Nova Scotia Correctional Centre opened in 2004 to replace it, by then the building’s usefulness as a jail had long passed its best before date.
But the building itself, says Rennehan, that’s a different story.
“I had my buddy, an engineer, come down as I was pretty confident that the building was in good, structural condition but I just wanted a second opinion. And sure enough, it’s solid,” she says. She is waiting to hear back from an environmental committee on the issue of lead paint with the building.
“I want to restore the original brick, that is going to be probably one of the most difficult, time consuming and costly processes,” she says. Making the jail mechanically efficient will also be a big capital cost. She also plans to add an extension to the building.
Rennehan can’t stop gushing over the granite and the steel in the building, or the laying of the eaves. When you consider what went into constructing this building around 150 years ago, she says, it really is incredible.
As for rumours the jail may be haunted, even this excites Rennehan.
“You know what? The more spirits the better for me. It keeps things interesting,” she says, adding if any of these spirits show up during the construction process, she’ll gladly hand them a jigsaw.
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