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It hit No. 1 on Preservation Ohio's list of most endangered historic sites, and the Seneca County Courthouse is living up to that ranking.
County commissioners voted 2-1 yesterday to move forward with razing the shuttered 1884 courthouse in downtown Tiffin by having a consultant put together bid specifications for demolition contractors.
Commissioners Ben Nutter and Dave Sauber said it was the financially responsible thing to do, but Commissioner Michael Bridinger, who cast the dissenting vote, said he still supported restoring the old courthouse.
"I'm just one commissioner, and I want to be very specific about this: Things move on," Mr. Bridinger said after the meeting. "I'm not happy with this decision, but things move on."
The commissioners have been wrestling with what to do with the old courthouse for years.
In May, 2002, Seneca County voters rejected a 10-year, 0.25 percent sales tax increase that would have paid for a $7 million courthouse renovation, and the building has continued to deteriorate since the common pleas courts and clerk of courts moved out in 2004.
Before yesterday's vote, members of Tiffin Historic Trust presented petitions to the commissioners that contained 1,000 signatures in support of preserving the old courthouse. The group and a committee called Save Our Courthouse has been rallying to save the landmark.
Mr. Nutter said the county simply can't afford to keep the old courthouse or to build a new one that's similar in size. He has proposed building a 19,000-square-foot structure on the site that, coupled with demolition expenses, would cost around $5.6 million.
"I have to make decisions based on the facts and the numbers, and I can't allow emotions to enter into it. That's how governments get in trouble," Mr. Nutter said.
Earlier this month, MKC Associates of Mansfield presented construction estimates ranging from just under $9 million to renovate the old courthouse to as much as $11.3 million to demolish and rebuild the interior while keeping the sandstone exterior. Mr. Sauber said he feared those numbers could turn out even higher.
"Once we open up that mess over there and we start looking at stuff that's hidden, the cost overruns could just be huge and we don't have the money," he said.
Mr. Sauber proposed building a mirror image of the courthouse annex that opened in 2004, which would allow the two facilities to share a central, secure entrance. Probate and juvenile courts would move into the annex, while the common pleas courts and clerk's office would move into the new building at a cost he estimated around $4 million.
Prior to the vote, Mr. Bridinger presented his own plan: Renovate the second and third floors of the old courthouse, remove the fourth floor, and leave the first floor, which is the basement level, as it is. He said that would give the courts around 19,000 square feet like Mr. Nutter proposed at a cost he estimated at just under $5.6 million.
He said he wasn't giving up hope that the courthouse could be saved.
"There's a minute chance," Mr. Bridinger said. "It's never over till it's over."
Mr. Nutter said if all goes as planned the courthouse could be razed by fall so that the county can move ahead with a new home for the courts.
"We need to put this issue behind us," Mr. Sauber added.
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