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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2007

Case for the courthouse

AS THE battle continues to save the Seneca County Courthouse, residents of the Tiffin area need to focus on several issues that discredit the impulsive campaign by two county commissioners to bulldoze the historic structure. By the same token, this is a subject that speaks equally to all Ohioans who are proud of their state and their hometowns and the image they present to the public.

First, there has never been a groundswell in the Tiffin community to raze the 123-year-old courthouse, a splendid example of 19th century Beaux Arts architecture. Indeed, a local panel appointed by these same commissioners recommended keeping the building, and a previous study by experts established that the cost of renovation would be less than replacement with a modern facility.

Second, the commissioners who favor demolition - David Sauber and Ben Nutter - have turned what amounts to a blind eye toward securing state capital-improvements funding for renovation. That sensible step could take some of the fiscal pressure off taxpayers, who, in any case, are going to foot the bill to address county government's growing need for office space.

Third, Tiffin (population approximately 17,500) may be a small city, but it doesn't have to succumb to a two-lane-town, tear-down mentality. Without the courthouse, it will not be the same town and stands to lose its sense of identity, especially for former residents who return for visits. Is it going to be a town with some class, or is it going to be a town that has destroyed itself? Employers want to locate in towns with class.

With renovation of the Ritz Theatre in 1998, residents already have demonstrated that they value historic preservation, both in fact and in concept. The same zeal can be tapped to save the courthouse from the kind of mindless destruction that has erased priceless history from the face of villages, towns, and cities across the nation.

But first, a majority of the three-member board of county commissioners must be persuaded to reverse its rash decision in favor of demolition. One person has the power to avoid this impending disaster.

Judge Charles Wittenberg made a wise decision last week before adjourning a court hearing now at the heart of efforts to save the vacant courthouse. Just in case someone was prepared to rev up the bulldozers before the legal challenge was completed, Judge Wittenberg, a visiting jurist from Lucas County, instructed commissioners not to touch a brick. That was a good call.

The hearing, on a request for an injunction to keep the commissioners from proceeding with demolition, is due to resume July 25. A citizens' group maintains - justifiably, we believe - that Mr. Sauber and Mr. Nutter have made only a limited, pro forma effort to determine the true cost and benefit of restoring the courthouse.

But understanding the intrinsic value of preserving such historic landmarks is not all that complicated. Officials in other area urban and rural counties - Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, Fulton, and Wyandot among them - have found the money to restore their courthouses. Why not Seneca County?

If Mr. Sauber and Mr. Nutter would raise their sights and look to the future, they would recognize that the certain result of obliterating the courthouse will be the everlasting regret it would engender in the hearts of their fellow citizens, many of whom vote.

Put another way, do either of these men want the epitaph on his tombstone to read: "He tore down the courthouse and destroyed our town"?

If they would step back and take a broader look at what's at stake for their community, we believe they would change their minds. Meanwhile, residents in Seneca County and elsewhere should make their clarion voices heard before it's too late.



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