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Published: 8/15/2007

Seneca County may replicate building that stood in 1841

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A rendering of the 1841 Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin. A suggestion to appease people on both sides of the local courthouse debate is to build a new one just like it. A rendering of the 1841 Seneca County Courthouse in Tiffin. A suggestion to appease people on both sides of the local courthouse debate is to build a new one just like it.
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A photograph of the 1884 courthouse shows the clock tower. A photograph of the 1884 courthouse shows the clock tower.
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TIFFIN - Seneca County Commissioner Dave Sauber hopes to appease people on both sides of the local courthouse debate by having a new courthouse built that would replicate an even older version of the county courthouse.

"I think the 1841 courthouse is a beautiful-looking courthouse," Mr. Sauber said, referring to the federal-style courthouse that predated the existing 1884 structure. The brick, two-story building was razed in 1883 to make way for the Beaux Arts-style, sandstone courthouse designed by noted American architect Elijah E. Myers.

Mr. Sauber said the replicated courthouse he en-visions would incorporate the original clock tower from the 1884 courthouse. Yesterday, he sent an outline of his idea with pictures of the two buildings to MKC Associates of Mansfield, Ohio, which he said agreed to do a rendering of the building at no cost to the county.

"I think by bringing back that actual structure along with the 1884 original clock tower could be pretty neat," he said. "I'm just hoping to try and please everyone in the sense of building a new structure and yet bringing back portions of our history."

Mr. Sauber said he's hoping to have a rendering of the building to share with his fellow commissioners when they meet Monday. He said he'd also like to take the drawing out to the community to solicit individuals, businesses, and organizations that might be interested in paying for some of the historic-looking features he would like to see in the new courthouse.

Historic preservationists who have been campaigning to save the old courthouse were not impressed with the commissioner's plan.

"I have a problem with recreating the past when we have a part of the past sitting in the public square," said John Huss, a local historian who owns a residential design and drafting firm in Tiffin.

Douglas Collar, one of six residents who went to court to try to stop the 1884 courthouse's demolition, said a building that looks old on the outside simply is not the same as a historically significant structure.

"The 1884 building is an acknowledged architectural classic by a renowned architect of national reputation, and the idea is not just to build a new building that looks old," he said.

Mr. Collar insisted he was not opposed to new construction when it's necessary, but he does not believe it is justified in this case.

"When you have a one-of-a-kind structure that in no way has been proven to be unsound or structurally dangerous, I don't understand it. To me, it's still a waste," he said. "New construction of any kind isn't going to replace this building. Just to make it look old is trivializing the real issue here."

While a lawsuit seeking an injunction against commissioners is pending, commissioners have continued to move ahead with demolition plans.

Yesterday, the board reviewed a revised proposal for demolition from MKC that projects the actual "deconstruction" of the 1884 courthouse to occur in late November through the end of January.

MKC's proposal includes a $15,000 charge for an environmental assessment of the building and a $60,000 charge for preparing bids and specifications for the demolition. The firm also offered to provide a project manager at the site during demolition at a cost of $35,000, but Mr. Sauber said he anticipates commissioners hiring a local person to oversee the project at a lower cost.

County Administrator Cindy Keller said commissioners did not act on MKC's new proposal because they wanted the county prosecutor to review it.

The proposal will lay out the terms for a new contract with MKC for the demolition services.

MKC was hired last January by the county to do a study that looked at how and at what cost the courthouse could be razed while saving at least some of its architectural features.

The firm, which was paid about $39,000 for the study and presentation, ultimately outlined options not only for demolition, but for renovating the courthouse too.

MKC estimated it would cost just under $9 million to renovate the 1884 courthouse, which was less than the $9.5 million it estimated it would cost to demolish the old courthouse and build a new, 32,000-square-foot building.

Commissioner Ben Nutter subsequently proposed building a scaled-back, 19,000-square-foot courthouse at a cost closer to $5 million.

Mr. Sauber has said he would like to build a 24,000-square-foot courthouse that would provide room for the county prosecutor's office and elections board as well as two common pleas courtrooms and the clerk of courts.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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