Saturday, Jul 23, 2016
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Seneca County fairgoers debate courthouse s fate

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  • Seneca-County-fairgoers-debate-courthouse-s-fate

Holly Melick of Tiffin signs a petition in support of saving the Seneca County Courthouse as Nancy Cook looks on.


TIFFIN Surrounded by early photographs of the 1884 courthouse, the folks in the Save Our Courthouse booth at the Seneca County Fair say the county must preserve the structure to be true to itself.

Even the county flag, they point out, features the words Seneca County Where History Flows around a cameo of the county courthouse. It s priceless. They don t build those anymore, said Adams Engle, a real estate appraiser from Tiffin whose mother, Rayella, is a leader in efforts to save the courthouse from demolition. County commissioners are expected to again discuss the topic of demolition tomorrow.

Some fair-goers stopping by the booth agree that the courthouse, designed by noted American architect Elijah E. Myers, is one of the most important local landmarks.

We happen to have this beautiful, magnificent structure. This is part of Tiffin s heritage, said Gary Winston, director for the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg College. I think it would just be a crime to demolish it.

Out in the heart of the fairgrounds, however, many rural residents have few qualms about taking a wrecking ball to the courthouse instead of spending what commissioners say could be more than $9 million to restore it.

I think it should go down. It s going to cost too much money to renovate, said Nancy Miller, a Tiffin University facilities manager who was working in the 4-H Junior Leadership milkshake stand. It would be more efficient and effective to build something new.

To Ms. Miller, a Bloom Township resident who advises the Victory 4-H Club, the loss of the Beaux Arts-style architecture of the three-story, sandstone courthouse in Tiffin would not matter, she said. Tiffin is 50 miles southeast of Toledo.

Serving up hamburgers in a beef promotion stand, Seneca County Beef Queen Lindy Smith tried to be diplomatic.

I think the courthouse is a Tiffin monument, she began. It would be nice if they could preserve like a cornerstone.


Jackie Fletcher, left, and Nancy Cook of the Save Our Courthouse Committee talk to county fairgoer Brian Tippin of New Riegel, Ohio, about preserving the historic structure in Tiffin.


But to save the whole courthouse as preservationists are arguing for in a lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court?

It s an old building and restoration and preservation is just ridiculous right now. I don t think Tiffin has enough money for that, said Lindy, who is about to start her senior year at Calvert High School in Tiffin and wants to study biology in college.

If preserving the courthouse could be done in a frugal manner like how many local farmers work on their houses and barns, Gary Heibertshausen, who was grilling hamburgers for Lindy to sell, said he would favor restoration.

But Mr. Heibertshausen, a part-time farmer who manages a farm supply center, said he feared prevailing-wage rules would make renovation a very expensive venture.

Mike Obarr, who was providing golf cart rides across the fairgrounds, said he d like to see the commissioners use artifacts from the current courthouse in a new building.

Or, he said, those interested in preserving the courthouse should arrange to save it in a way that would not cost the taxpayers a dime.

You want to save the courthouse? You find the money, said Mr. Obarr, a retired truck driver from Loudon Township south of Fostoria who teaches commercial driving at Terra Community College near Fremont.

Back in the Save Our Courthouse booth, committee members say they have not considered making an offer to buy the courthouse from the county commissioners.

Nor have they discussed asking the commissioners for the $500,000 or more the county would spend on demolition and then promise to use that to preserve the building for another use, such as a museum.

Although their preservation organizations have been involved in restoring other downtown historic buildings over the years, the courthouse would be a big undertaking for a small group, said Nancy Cook of Tiffin, an interior decorator and retired bed-and-breakfast owner.

And, quite frankly, she says preserving the courthouse should be a countywide effort, not just left to those who care most deeply.

Mr. Winston, the water quality director, agrees with that.

Almost everyone pays taxes for some services they never use.

I don t have children and I pay school taxes, he said. It s part of being a community-minded citizen.

In the tents set up by the county s political parties, the candidates and elected officials alike say they wish someone would resolve the courthouse issue once and for all.

I m just afraid it s going to tear the town apart, said Dawn Iannantuono, president of the Tiffin City Board of Education and a Democratic candidate for mayor. People are choosing sides.

Carol Boos, who is running for mayor of Fostoria on the Democratic ticket, said because her city is divided by three county lines Wood, Hancock, and Seneca fewer people there seem to be as vested in the Seneca County Courthouse debate.

And she s found herself stepping back from it as well.

At first I was kind of concerned because of the historical significance of the courthouse. And then I found out it was at least the second or third courthouse in the county. If it had been the first, I probably would have gone to the mat for it, she said.

In the Republicans tent, Rich Cline, a Tiffin City Council candidate, said the most interesting comment he s heard on the topic came from a resident who favored building a replica of the courthouse that preceded the current one.

Mr. Cline, who expects to graduate from Kent State University with a political science degree in December, said he personally favors whatever move is most fiscally responsible.

But he s not sure what that is.

There have been so many reports with different numbers that right now it is too hard to say what is most fiscally responsible, he said.

Two of the three commissioners say demolition and building new are most cost-effective.

The Save Our Courthouse group says a new building would soon get old too and would never be as grand which are among the reasons they say renovation would be the least costly in the long run.

They also point out that renovation efforts could be done over time, spreading out the cost.

Christine Rumschlag, a 911 dispatcher for the county who is selling home decor items in a booth across from Save Our Courthouse, said she agrees with giving the courthouse a face-lift now and then keeping it up over the years.

I don t think history should be disposed of so quickly, she said. You just can t let go of something like this.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:jschmucker@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.

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