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Published: Monday, 12/16/2013

Defiance Co. courthouse to undergo renovations

Plans aim to restore functionality, grandeur

The Defiance County Courthouse in Defiance has escaped the wrecking ball, at least for the time being. The Defiance County Courthouse in Defiance has escaped the wrecking ball, at least for the time being.
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DEFIANCE — Officials are reinvigorating a once-dead plan to renovate the Defiance County Courthouse.

For years, the 1870s courthouse has been the center of a will-they, won’t-they struggle between demolition or renovation.

County commissioners decided to demolish it and build a new facility, but the plan stalled when voters in 2006 quashed a tax proposal to cover the cost.

This year, the architectural firm DLZ of Columbus was hired to draw plans to renovate the structure, which officials said needs security, access, and other upgrades. The effort stalled in October when a courthouse committee decided not to proceed with renovation, citing concerns about the cost and how the design addressed space and layout concerns.

On Monday, the same committee — made up of the three county commissioners, two judges, the clerk of courts, and the sheriff — voted unanimously to proceed with renovation steps.

The next moves are for architects to finish the plans and then proceed with bidding.

Commissioner Chairman Otto Nicely said the reversal came after further discussion about what the remodel would include.

“We think it’s going to be a nice asset to the downtown area — make it look like a decent courthouse again,” he said.

The original courthouse has been altered severely. The original roof was removed to add a third floor, and the brick from the top level doesn’t match the rest of the building. A 1950s renovation removed marble and woodwork that trimmed the interior.

The renovation as presently envisioned would match the exterior brick and change the facade so the top meshes better with the rest of the building.

An area on the first floor would be renovated to look similar to its original version, with woodwork, chandeliers, and 18-foot-tall ceilings, Mr. Nicely said.

Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey Strausbaugh said the current courthouse feels cold and utilitarian. He was more accepting of the renovation after learning it would return some of the lost grandeur.

Judge Strausbaugh said commissioners also provided members of the committee with more financial background, such as why they don’t think the county can sustain the long-term cost to build a new structure — an option he prefers.

Commissioners have roughly $4.5 million saved to pay for the renovation, and have told the architects they want the project to stay within that range, Mr. Nicely said. He said tearing down the courthouse and replacing it would more than double that cost, and said voters already rejected a funding proposal once.

Judge Strausbaugh still thinks the expense to renovate the courthouse is a lot of money to put into an old building, but said it appears “commissioners had narrowed it down to the only viable option we had.”

“Our feeling is we are going to have to do something because the building that we have now is not very functional,” he said.

The plans call for building an addition between the courthouse and an annex building that houses offices such as the auditor and treasurer, Mr. Nicely said.

The addition will make room for a new elevator that services the courthouse’s basement through third floors, and will include a new single entrance and accessible restrooms, officials said. The addition will be built with brick and mortar that matches the original courthouse.

Judge Strausbaugh said he understands construction could begin next year, if all approvals are finalized.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6056, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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