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Published: Sunday, 2/22/2009

No stimulus for tear-down

MILLIONS for preservation but not one dime for destruction. That should be the message sent by the people of Seneca County and Gov. Ted Strickland to the Seneca County commissioners.

The latest plan to save the 1884 courthouse in Tiffin involves totally renovating the existing structure and connecting it to an adjacent annex at a cost of about $8.8 million. The county commissioners are standing firm in their insistence that the total cost to taxpayers be held to $5.5 million to $6 million, with the balance made up through some combination of grants, tax credits, and federal stimulus funds.

Toward that end, Commissioner Dave Sauber has applied for $11 million in federal stimulus funds to "save or replace" the historic structure. And it is there, in the little word "replace" that the problem resides, because no stimulus money should be used to destroy such an important piece of Ohio's past.

Viewed pragmatically, renovation projects provide more bang for the stimulus buck than demolition and new construction. As Heritage Ohio's Jeff Seigler pointed out, "Fixing up infrastructure is where the job creation is. There's a lot more stimulative effect in terms of labor costs." And Jeff Laidlaw, the states historic preservation officer and executive director of the Ohio Historical Society, noted that restoration projects put people to work quickly - sometimes within a month.

But that's not all.

The Beaux Arts-style structure by architect Elijah E. Myers, one of the most prominent designers of public buildings in the 19th century, is considered one of the finest examples of his work anywhere. As a result, while Seneca County holds title to the courthouse, the building belongs to all of Ohio, and federal stimulus money targeting all of Ohio should be spent on projects that save rather than destroy the state's heritage.

Preservationists, architects, state officials, ordinary and residents have fought for more than two years to save the courthouse from the wrecking ball. The intent has always been to preserve a structure that symbolizes the majesty of the law, recalls the storied history of the city, the county, and the state, and is one of the state's finest examples of both Beaux Arts architecture.

According to Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey, "the governor continues to believe restoration is a worthy and important goal," adding that does not support using stimulus funds to raze or replace the courthouse.

Mr. Strickland has it right. Allocating stimulus funds to resurrect this historic structure would be a worthy endeavor but the aid should come with the stipulation that it be used to make sure the Seneca County Courthouse is preserved for future generations.

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