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Published: Monday, 7/21/2003

New courthouse takes shape


TIFFIN - Workers are well on the way to completing what will become Seneca County's courthouse, at least for a while.

By December, officials expect the three-story office building on Market Street downtown to be finished and ready to accommodate the county's two common pleas courts and the clerk of courts' office. They'll move out of the Seneca County courthouse next door, leaving the hulking sandstone structure empty after 117 years.

Commissioner Tom Distel said he and his colleagues felt they had no choice because a continuing budget crisis made refurbishing the old building impossible. They plan to mothball the courthouse and heat it enough during the winter to prevent damage.

“You're either going to have to tear it down or get to a point where you remodel,” he said. “We have no plans to do anything like that. We don't have the money to do either.”

Court officials say they're looking forward to modern surroundings, extra space, and a climate-controlled working environment. But some worry about what will happen to the historic courthouse.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Judge Steve Shuff said from his office on the first floor of the courthouse. “I hate to see this courthouse become an empty building. ... But I'm also excited about moving into quarters where I have air conditioning, proper heat, [and] a proper courtroom.”

Eight months after construction began on the $3.1 million structure, it's beginning to show some judicial grandeur, said John Huss, an architect with Charles Effinger Co. of Norwalk who designed the building.

Inside, workers have put mahogany-stained poplar trim around the ceilings and windows of the second and third-floor courtrooms and laid burgundy and gray bathroom tiles. Outside, they're sawing and laying the red and beige bricks that give the building its Romanesque style.

A fire in January, 2001, that destroyed the county-owned Hanson Building across Market Street paved the way for the construction project. Seneca County received a $3.1 million insurance settlement, with the stipulation that the money be used for a replacement building on county-owned property.

The commissioners decided to raze the old jail and build there. Initial plans called for the new building to house the probate and juvenile courts and the commissioners' office.

But after voters rejected a sales tax in May, 2002, to fund renovating the courthouse, the commissioners decided to move the common pleas judges into the new building. Last week, they agreed to move Clerk of Courts Mary Ward and the county title office into the annex's first floor.

“I'm excited,” Ms. Ward said. “I think it's beautiful. It's going to be perfect.”

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