TIFFIN The Seneca County commissioners yesterday pronounced the death sentence for the 122-year-old county courthouse, voting unanimously to tear down the decaying landmark and replace it with a new structure.
The decision ends a lengthy debate and architectural studies over the merits of spending millions of dollars to renovate it or start over with a new building.
Commissioner Joseph Schock said the next step will be to hire an engineering firm to develop a plan for demolishing the sandstone Beaux Arts behemoth, with an eye toward saving as many artifacts as possible.
It s going to take awhile, he said.
Erected starting in 1884 at a cost of $214,000, it was designed by Elijah E. Myers, a Detroit architect. He also designed the current state capitols in Michigan, Texas, and Colorado.
But years of neglect and inadequate spending on maintenance sparked the most recent study of space needs and costs.
Mr. Schock said public hearings on the topic began in 2001, concluding with a study commissioned in April with Stilson & Associates Inc. to determine the county s space needs and whether the courthouse would fit in those plans.
The consultants identified various concerns with the building, including inefficient government operations, inaccessibility, lack of room for growth, and increased costs of operations.
The consultants offered the commissioners five options, although only one involved renovation and building another annex. The other four suggested demolition and building replacement buildings.
Ben Nutter, president of the commissioners, said the plan they approved included a 15-year master plan for space usage.
It just kind of outlines our strategy for the future of the county, Mr. Nutter said.
Rosalie Adams, past president of the county historical society and a retired 20-year veteran county employee and historian, said she knew there was little hope the building would be saved.
I ve got mixed emotions about it, she said. Money-wise, it s probably a good decision. It s so far gone.
She blamed the county for spending too little money on maintenance and upkeep.
They should have started fixing it up a long time ago. They waited too long, she said.
Mr. Schock, who worked in courthouse maintenance before he was elected commissioner and is a certified construction supervisor, agreed.
There isn t a square yard in the building that I haven t set foot in, he said. We had a lot of wasted space in that building.
Some ill-fated modifications, such as an Art Deco clock tower that was added in the 1940s, contributed to the hodge-podge of styles and renovations that keeps the interior from being user-friendly, the consultants report noted.
The option the commissioners selected yesterday includes demolition and building a 25,000-square-foot addition to the three-story annex next to the old courthouse.
The nearby Carnegie Library, housing the juvenile and probate courts, and the County Services Building, which contains the prosecutor, elections board, board of health, and public guardian offices, would be renovated.
The RTA Building, which houses the auditor, recorder, treasurer, regional planning, and park district offices, will be kept as is, according to the plan.
The Jefferson Street Annex, which houses the commissioners offices and probation department, would be vacated.
The courthouse is now vacant, except for records storage and part of the Seneca County Law Library on the fourth floor.