SENECA COUNTY

Joint talks sought for city-county courthouse

Commissioners ask Tiffin to open dialogue

5/30/2014
BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Seneca County Courthouse, a Beaux Arts structure that was built in 1886, was torn down in 2012. The proposed justice center would be built on that same site.
The Seneca County Courthouse, a Beaux Arts structure that was built in 1886, was torn down in 2012. The proposed justice center would be built on that same site.

TIFFIN — The Seneca County commissioners agreed on Thursday to begin discussions with Tiffin officials about building a shared justice center.

The county will move forward, albeit cautiously, with that step as it considers a joint courthouse concept proposed in a March study.

The $100,000, state-funded study recommended that the county and city team up to build a justice center housing the Tiffin Municipal Court and Seneca County Common Pleas Courts.

The commissioners said they are willing to begin talking about possible terms with city officials, but stressed the step does not commit them to building a facility. Commissioner Fred Zoeller said they have not decided where a structure would be built.

The study, commissioned by the North Central Ohio Regional Council of Governments, recommended an $8.5 million joint justice center at the site of the former Seneca County Courthouse, demolished in 2012. The study predicted a shared facility would cost nearly $850,000 less than separate city and county court buildings, plus it will produce more than $180,000 a year in operational savings.

Vacant site that was once the Seneca County Courthouse on Thursday, in Tiffin, Ohio.
Vacant site that was once the Seneca County Courthouse on Thursday, in Tiffin, Ohio.

Andrew Kalnow, owner of the former East Junior High School, has asked officials to consider his nearby building for use as a justice center. Officials will consider public input and the results of a privately funded study examining the vacant school before deciding on a potential location, Mr. Zoeller said.

In the meantime, city and county officials can start talking about how to finance a building project and who would be responsible for expenses such as maintenance, he said.

“There’s a lot of contractual things between the city and the county that got to be worked out, and we’re hopeful that we can overcome these hurdles but … there’s no guarantee,” he said.

The commissioners unanimously voted to accept, but not commit to implementing, the state-funded study.

The council of governments can begin preparing an application for an 11-year, zero-interest $500,000 state loan. Those funds could be used for upfront project costs such as preliminary or architectural engineering, said the council’s director, John Davoli.

Commissioner Jeff Wagner, who voted to raze the 1884 county courthouse, told commissioners he supports the direction taken Thursday.

Tiffin City Council passed a resolution supporting the joint justice center concept in April.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.