The process of converting the historic Nevada State Prison into a museum is continuing — albeit slowly — as advocates work their way through the legal, historic, access and other issues.
One of the most asked questions is if and when there will be public access to the old execution chamber.
“There’s no way you can make the execution chamber ADA compliant,” said Glen Whorton, executive director of the prison preservation society.
Instead, he said they’re working on developing a virtual reality tour of the old chamber, which has been replaced by a new death chamber at Ely State Prison where Nevada’s death row inmates are housed.
ADA and fire safety issues are the biggest problems the society is having throughout the old prison, some parts of which were built in the 1920s.
Whorton said the big focus right now is working through the process of formally changing the use of the property. Until that’s completed and some related issues dealt with, he said even the society’s access to NSP is limited.
He said Dube Group of Reno is doing the code analysis for $17,000 — a process that has been delayed for weeks now by western Nevada’s inclement weather. Once the study is done, “change of use” has to be signed off by Public Works and reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office, whose officials have the final say on what can and can’t be done with historic elements of the old prison on Fifth Street.
“We learned that the hard way,” he said.
Whorton said the society is getting some excellent donations from former prison workers and officials including keys, leg irons, uniforms and ”shanks” — the prison term for homemade knives. He said they’ve also gotten a number of old photographs with historic significance.
He encouraged anyone with historic prison items, pictures and artifacts to help build their collections, which will eventually be on display at the prison.
With help from two inmates assigned from the neighboring Warm Springs Prison, Whorton said a lot of cleanup of the old prison yard and grounds has been accomplished. So far, he said, except for some inmate time, it hasn’t cost the state anything.
Some of that work included closing doors and other openings to keep out birds and shuttering the culinary section to keep out animals.
He and other society members, many of them former corrections employees like Whorton, are also looking for help fleshing out the prison’s history. He said they would like to nail down exactly where the old Warm Springs Hotel was located on the property. That hotel preceded the prison, which was built and opened before Nevada became a state and continued to operate as a hotel for years after the prison was built.
But no one knows exactly where it stood.
The society website is available at www.nevadastateprison.org.