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Published: Wednesday, 10/9/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Defiance Co. will not renovate courthouse

Committee gets just 1 vote for $4.6M project

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Defiance County Courthouse in Defiance has historic first and second stories and a new top to the building. The Defiance County Courthouse in Defiance has historic first and second stories and a new top to the building.
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DEFIANCE — The Defiance County Courthouse is no longer readying for a major renovation.

But what exactly its future holds remains a bit uncertain.

Wednesday, a committee consisting of three county commissioners, two judges, the sheriff, and the clerk of courts decided not to pursue an estimated $4.6 million project to retrofit the 1870s courthouse.

Only one committee member, Commissioner James Harris, voted to proceed with a renovation, according to Otto Nicely, chairman of the Defiance County Commissioners.

“The project is dead,” Mr. Nicely said. “We’ll continue to do business as usual.”

Earlier this year, officials asked architectural firm DLZ of Columbus to prepare plans at a cost of about $156,000.

Officials wanted the project to address technology, security, and space issues.

Instead, the courthouse will continue to be used as it is, Mr. Nicely said.

“We aren’t going to demolish it,” he said. “I don’t know where I’m going to get the money to build a new one.”

He said several committee members were concerned the proposed remodel wouldn’t provide enough room and the proper layout to meet future needs and didn’t think it made sense to put money into the project.

“We found out it wasn’t cost effective to do it,” he said.

The county set aside roughly $4.3 million for courthouse work. Those funds will remain in a capital fund, or they could look into whether the money could be used for jail operations, Mr. Nicely said.

Defiance County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey Strausbaugh said the rejected plans “did a pretty good job” of reworking the flow of traffic inside the building and separating prisoners, staff, and the public — among the project’s aims. But, he said, plans for the second floor would have reduced the space administrative staff have now.

The price tag, he said, “was just too excessive” for a building that offers too little space and with historical value that he contends has been lost both inside and out.

He and Defiance County Clerk of Courts Amy Galbraith pointed to the construction of the larger Defiance Municipal Court, built several years ago at roughly $5.3 million, as one reason they deemed the proposed renovation too costly for the benefits it would provide.

“I think the next step is that the courts will get together and devise a plan to use the space that exists in the courthouse as it presently exists… without looking to expend significant dollars,” Judge Strausbaugh said.

Among the changes he suggested is moving the clerk of courts office from the second floor to the first, which is unoccupied except for the security office, he said.

The judge said he believes “the most viable solution” for the long-term is to demolish the existing courthouse and build a new one. He said committee members asked commissioners to “keep an open mind and to examine all available options,” but said there’s no timeline to discuss possible next steps.

“I don’t think any of us walked out [of] there with an alternative plan in place,” he said.

Ms. Galbraith said any discussion about demolishing the courthouse and building another is something “that would have to be discussed in the future.” She expects any talk will wait until at least the first of the year, when commissioners might know more about their budget.

Mr. Nicely doesn’t know where the county would get the money to build a new courthouse, which he estimates would cost $10 million.

In 2006, voters defeated a sales-tax increase proposal to raze the structure and build a modern replacement.

“We understand what no means. We understand what the voters said,” Mr. Nicely said.

Commissioner Thomas Kime said building a new courthouse “would bankrupt the county” and said voters said no to that idea when they defeated the tax proposal.

“I’m fully confident that this building can work at some point; it may not work as well as some people may dream it can work,” he said. “I can tell you this, the structure of that building is extremely good.”

Mr. Kime said county commissioners have been trying to find a way to fix courthouse issues for about a decade. They’ve considered small patches and larger-scale renovations.

“I guess we just kick the can down the road,” he said of Wednesday’s decision.

Mr. Harris, who cast the lone dissenting vote, could not be reached for comment.

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



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