TIFFIN - Seneca County commissioners yesterday hired a Cleveland firm that specializes in historic restoration and renovation to update its 2003 estimate for renovating the 1884 courthouse.
By a 3-0 vote, commissioners agreed to pay up to $7,500 to Westlake Reed Leskosky to put 2008 figures to the project, which in 2003 was estimated at $5.9 million for construction costs and $2 million more for nonconstruction costs and contingencies.
Paul Siemborski, associate principal with the firm, said that estimate included replacing the Art Deco clock tower with a fiber-glass version of the original clock tower, recreating the third-floor courtroom by removing the law library that was added above it, and creating a second "proper-sized" courtroom on the main floor.
The estimate also included relocating the elevator and opening up the center atrium.
Mr. Siemborski told commissioners his firm could give them a new estimate within two weeks of signing a contract to do the work.
"I think that'd be money well spent," said Commissioner Mike Bridinger, who supports renovation.
Commissioner Dave Sauber said the board needs a solid estimate for renovation so that if it goes to voters in March to ask for a bond issue to support the project, it has accurate figures.
Commissioner Ben Nutter said after the meeting he had two reasons for seeking an updated estimate: so that he has more concrete figures to look at as he talks with state legislators and the governor's office about funding for the project, and so that he has those same figures to share with voters.
"When I'm talking to the public about the bond issue, we need to have as much good information as possible," he said.
Both Mr. Siemborski and his colleague, Rhonda Hansal, who attended yesterday's meeting, worked on the project in 2002 and 2003 and said they had been inside the courthouse several times.
Mr. Sauber said he would like to see them revisit the building, which has been sitting vacant since 2004 and has deteriorated since then.
"Once you say a number in this county, it's etched in stone," Mr. Sauber said, referring to an estimate for renovation.
Mr. Siemborski agreed it would be "the right thing to do" to re-examine the courthouse and reminded commissioners that the figure his firm comes up with would be a "concept estimate" that could change if and when detailed plans and drawings were done.
He also asked for information about the heating system installed for the 2004 county annex building adjacent to the courthouse.
Mr. Sauber said an underground connector was installed so that the heating system could service both the annex and the 1884 courthouse.
Although commissioners previously voted 2-1 to raze and replace the old courthouse, they agreed at a hearing last week in Seneca County Common Pleas Court to do nothing irreversible to the building until at least April 30.
While the court directed the board to pass a resolution putting that commitment in writing, the document was not ready yesterday. Commissioners said they expected to vote on it Monday.
In other business, Jackie Fletcher, one of six county residents who sued commissioners to halt demolition of the courthouse, thanked the board for taking down the orange fencing around the courthouse steps and asked permission for the Tiffin Historic Trust to put up some holiday decorations at the courthouse.
Commissioners asked for a list of what the group planned to do, saying they did not want volunteers on ladders on the crumbling steps to hang lights.
Commissioners also agreed not to sell a 1919 Model T that was up for auction Saturday after a relative of the family that had donated the car to the Seneca County Museum came forward.
Douglas Gebauer said his family was unaware the county planned to sell the car and asked that it remain in the museum's collection.
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