The Lucas County courthouse is "structurally strong" and in no danger of needing to be razed, according to two county officials' testimony yesterday.
Or, as county Commissioner Ben Konop said: "We are not on the Seneca [County] slope."
Mr. Konop called a county judge and the county's facilities director to testify before the commissioners yesterday regarding the downtown Toledo courthouse, which opened in 1897. He wanted to be sure what is happening in Seneca County - where two of three county commissioners voted to demolish their 1884 courthouse and build anew rather than renovate - wasn't going to happen in Lucas County.
"Our courthouse functions well," Mr. Konop said. "It could use some sprucing up around the edges, but we're not at all on the same path as [Seneca County]."
Both Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Jensen and Earl Reid, the county's facilities director, expressed confidence that the 110-year-old courthouse would continue to stand as a downtown Toledo landmark for years to come.
Judge Jensen said the courthouse "defines this county," and said he never wants the building to "get into a state similar to Seneca County's courthouse."
He suggested the commissioners develop a master plan for the courthouse that would outline intended renovations over several years.
Judge Jensen said after the meeting though the courthouse's structure is strong, it is at risk of becoming "inefficient."
The county is paying $250,000 to local architectural firm Duket Porter Associates, which is collaborating with Ann Arbor-based Quinn Evans/Architects, to identify the courthouse's chief areas of concern.
Both Judge Jensen and Mr. Reid said the study wouldn't be complete until the end of September, but the firms are expected to identify potential water damage and roofing issues that need to be addressed.
Judge Jensen said the courthouse's technological capabilities are far behind more modern courthouses - a problem as caseloads continue to rise.
He also said he is concerned these upgrades will not be made because of the cost, and said the $1.3 million approved in 2004 for six phases of renovation isn't enough to complete that work.
Lucas County has, over the last three years, renovated the clerk of courts' office on the third floor, relocated the sheriff's office to a different spot on the first floor, and transferred a majority of the clerk of courts' operations to the first floor.
But Judge Jensen said only $356,000 remains from the $1.3 million allocated to complete the entire project, which Mr. Reid identified as centralizing court reporters to one location, relocating the marriage-license bureau from the second floor to the first, and relocating the concession stand now in the middle of a first-floor hallway.
Additionally, county judges have requested a freight elevator be added to separate prisoners from the public and enable rescue crews to better navigate the building in case of emergency. Mr. Reid estimated the cost of installing a new elevator at about $1 million.
"When this current restoration project began, the amount allocated was inaccurate and we're in a shortfall to complete the necessary renovations," Judge Jensen said. "And simply put, there's not enough space in the courthouse for everyone to function efficiently."
All three commissioners pledged their continued support of the courthouse yesterday.
Commissioner Pete Gerken said the courthouse has received national recognition for its appearance, and commissioners have historically supported the courthouse by allocating funds for its improvements.
Mike Beazley, county administrator, estimated investment at $15 million over the last 25 years, which went toward renovating the courthouse's second floor, third floor, and stair tower; replacing tile and repairing the roof; and adding elevators, exterior lighting, and a pedestrian tunnel.
Echoing comments by Mr. Konop and Judge Jensen, Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said the county must take care of its courthouse because of the message it sends regarding the county's stance on crime. "I believe the courthouse is one of our highest priorities because of what happens in that building," Ms. Wozniak said.
Ilene Tyler, of Quinn Evans/Architects, a firm nationally renowned for its restoration efforts on buildings like the Michigan statehouse and the U.S. Treasury in Washington, said Lucas County's courthouse can be more than simply maintained. She said by refurbishing some of its doors and windows, the courthouse can enjoy the "brilliance and grandeur" of some of Washington's historical buildings.
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