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Published: 8/28/2007

Citizen input on courthouse stalls in Seneca

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - What seemed like a simple idea to involve Seneca County residents in design of the new county courthouse turned into a long debate for the board of commissioners yesterday.

Commissioner Ben Nutter hoped commissioners could name a committee of 13 residents to help choose a design firm and then give that firm ideas on what they would like the new courthouse to look like.

But as soon as he brought the topic up, Commissioner Dave Sauber said he was uncomfortable with having a committee make a recommendation to commissioners when the decisions of whom to hire and what the courthouse will look like are the board's to make.

"I'm just fearful we're trying to push off our responsibility," Mr. Sauber said, adding that a committee would feel its time was wasted if commissioners did not ultimately agree with its recommendation.

Mr. Nutter responded that he had no intention of trying to shirk his responsibility.

"I have a simple answer," Commissioner Mike Bridinger said with a grin. "Let's just keep [the old courthouse] as it is and fix it up."

His remark refueled the debate that has raged in Seneca County since commissioners in a 2-1 decision decided to raze the county's 1884 courthouse and replace it with a smaller structure. While a lawsuit aimed at stopping demolition is pending in Common Pleas Court, commissioners are moving forward with plans for demolition, which could occur as early as November.

MKC Associates of Mansfield has been retained to prepare the drawings and specifications to solicit bids for demolition of the shuttered courthouse.

Commissioners seemed to agree yesterday they would have MKC provide an on-site project manager to oversee the demolition, which will require temporary street closings and disrupt traffic and access to offices and businesses near the downtown site.

MKC, which is working with the Rose Group, a demolition firm, said the project manager would cost up to $35,000.

Eugene Rose, president of the Rose Group, told commissioners the on-site manager would be experienced in both demolition and public relations.

"It's not going to get any better, let me put it that way," he said of the controversy.

Commissioners also allocated an additional $50,000 for legal fees stemming from the courthouse lawsuit.

To date, the county has paid $40,930 to the Columbus law firm of Isaac, Brant, Ledman & Teetor, which is working with county Prosecutor Ken Egbert, Jr., in defending the county against the suit filed by local historic preservationists.

As for the citizens group, no decision was made.

Mr. Sauber said commissioners haven't involved citizens in interviewing firms, and he did not want to do that now.

He said he would like to see an advisory group give input about the exterior look of the new courthouse; commissioners and the elected officials who would use the new courthouse should determine what the inside would look like.

Mr. Bridinger said he believes a good cross-section of "on-the-street" people should serve on the committee, including representatives of the townships, villages, and cities in the county, and the Tiffin Historic Trust, among others.

Mr. Sauber and Mr. Nutter, who support demolishing the courthouse, both said after the meeting they would like a member of the Tiffin Historic Trust, a local preservation group, to serve on the citizens committee, but both said they would not want any of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit on the committee.

Rayella Engle, one of the plaintiffs and a regular spectator at the commissioners' meetings, said five of the six plaintiffs are members of the Historic Trust, which has 150 or so members.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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