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Published: Thursday, 11/17/2011

No final judgment

Time is running out for the Seneca County Courthouse. If Commissioners Ben Nutter and Jeff Wagner award a contract today to raze the historic building, they will tear a hole in the heart of downtown Tiffin -- for no good reason.

All reason is on the side of saving the 1884 structure. Its demolition will cost at least $373,000. A decision not to destroy the building will cost nothing and, in fact, would save the county money.

A private group has offered to lease the building and pay for maintenance and insurance that otherwise would be the county's responsibility. The group also suggests a way to guarantee loan payments if the county can't repay the money it would borrow to restore the courthouse. Franklin Conaway, who leads the private group, says he has a third-party guarantor for the reserve account.

Gov. John Kasich wants the courthouse saved. State preservationists have pleaded for a reprieve. Hundreds of county residents have expressed their desire to have the building restored to its former glory.

The Toledo chapter of the American Institute of Architects says preserving the courthouse is part of "our moral obligation to the future." Preservation experts from across the United States have added their voices in support of restoration.

Mr. Nutter insists that demolition is the better fiscal course. But building a courthouse -- as the county will have to do sooner or later -- will cost taxpayers more than renovation.

Mr. Wagner calls the courthouse "ugly," as if that were sufficient cause to unleash the wrecking ball. Yet that opinion has been refuted by every expert fortunate enough to tour the Tiffin landmark.

History, once destroyed, cannot be reclaimed. There will be plenty of time in the future to decide what to do with the courthouse if restoration funds are not found. Mr. Wagner and Mr. Nutter do not need to pass final judgment today.

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