TIFFIN - Nearly 1,000 people checked out Seneca County's endangered 1884 courthouse over the weekend, and those who missed out will have four more opportunities.
Commissioners agreed yesterday to open up the vacant courthouse again Jan. 19 and 20 and Feb. 16 and 17. Those who want to resuscitate the old courthouse would like to see as many people as possible take a look for themselves before they vote March 4 on an $8.5 million bond issue that would support renovation.
"It was an unbelievable turnout," Commissioner Mike Bridinger said of the weekend tours. "I don't know the exact number for the two days, but it was quite significant. Both friend and foe were there. I think some people changed their minds."
Mr. Bridinger has been the lone voice for saving the courthouse on the three-member board of commissioners, which decided last spring to move forward with razing the building and replacing it with a smaller, modern structure.
The board postponed its plans at Gov. Ted Strickland's request and, while waiting to see what kind of financial aid the state may provide, decided to give voters a chance to express their support - or nonsupport - for saving the courthouse.
Mr. Bridinger and members of the Tiffin Historic Trust organized the open houses, which featured guided tours in which the history and significance of the courthouse were explained.
Brenda Stultz said she was struck by the fact that while Seneca County residents were investigating a part of their past on Saturday, others were simultaneously dedicating a new kindergarten through twelfth grade school for the Seneca East school district.
"I think that's pretty neat. You're celebrating the new at the same time you're celebrating the old," she said.
Whether residents choose to keep the old courthouse will depend on the fate of a 20-year, 0.72-mill bond issue that is to appear on the March 4 ballot.
Commissioners say they do not plan to collect the tax if it passes but would use it as backing for the bonds they take out to do the renovation. While they say they will get a lower interest rate if voters approve the bond issue, Commissioner Ben Nutter also has said repeatedly that he will not support renovating the courthouse, which he calls the more expensive option, unless voters approve the new tax.
Mr. Nutter and Commissioner Dave Sauber did not attend the open houses. Mr. Sauber said he's been in the courthouse plenty of times and saw no need to, while Mr. Nutter said he was out of town.
Ms. Stultz said 405 people signed a liability waiver to walk through the courthouse on Saturday and 492 signed on Sunday.
Children and others younger than 18 did not sign the forms.
Mr. Sauber suggested that next time, volunteers mark down the number of under-18 visitors so that they have a more exact count.
"I invite you to come and count heads," Ms. Stultz replied, adding, "I'd love to have all three of you there."
Also yesterday, commissioners approved the 2008 appropriations, which included a general fund budget of $15.4 million and 3 percent raises for county employees.
The appropriations did not include any money for courthouse renovation, demolition, or new construction, commissioners said, because they will not know what is going to be done with the courthouse until after the primary election.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-353-5972.