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Published: Thursday, 1/12/2012

Game not over

A big hole is replacing what used to be the Seneca County Courthouse in downtown Tiffin. The two politicians who recklessly pursued the destruction of the historic building, and the apologists who acquiesced in this official shortsightedness, may believe that the wrecking ball is ending the matter.

They are wrong. The community controversy is just starting.

Now that the old courthouse is gone, Seneca County taxpayers can focus on the reality that the county does not have a permanent courthouse or a plan or the money to build one. They should not assume that state or federal aid will, or should, be available for a new building that inevitably will cost millions of dollars more than renovation of the old one.

County Commissioners Ben Nutter and Jeff Wagner made tearing down the courthouse, instead of embracing a good plan to rebuild it, an expression of their personal power. They now must explain their better idea to their constituents, if they have one.

Every day that the county relegates its court activities to cramped, makeshift "temporary" facilities -- many of which are not accessible to disabled people -- it violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. This sort of administration of justice has been going on for nearly eight years.

How much longer are county officials willing to bet that federal regulators will let them get away with their lawbreaking, especially in light of the critical national attention the courthouse demolition has brought them?

Nor is there a plan for redeveloping the site of the old courthouse. Scattering some grass seed in a vacant lot does not create a "green space." For the foreseeable future, what should be the center of the county seat -- and the core of a vibrant downtown -- will be an ugly scar that conveys nothing of a sense of place or of Seneca County's rich history. County residents will be reminded of that void every time they walk by the site.

The county's judges and lawyers may come to regret their silence while politicians condemned the courthouse where they once worked. They may be reminded of that default when they make their Law Day speeches, this year and for years to come, seeking public respect for the legal profession.

Other state and local elected officials who could have opposed two-man rule in the county, but failed to do so effectively or at all, may find themselves challenged by voters. These officials' rhetorical invocation of the importance of students learning and appreciating Ohio's history will sound hollow.

Business owners in downtown Tiffin will lament the opportunity county officials threw away to make a renovated courthouse the foundation of an economic-development plan that would have created jobs, attracted visitors, and increased local tax revenue.

In Toledo, the city school district is about to reopen a renovated Scott High School -- a prime example of adaptive reuse of an older but still-sound building (sadly, Toledo Public Schools did not find a similar use for Libbey High School). Seneca County had the same chance at redemption and blew it.

Seneca County will observe its bicentennial in five years. What will county residents have to celebrate then, other than a collection of lost possibilities as large and painful as the hole in the middle of Tiffin?

Well before then, an expression of public anger is likely to accompany that sense of public loss.



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