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Published: Sunday, 1/20/2008

Jury still out on structure's fate in the court of popular opinion

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jim and Rose Dariano, left, Marge Alpay, Josh Dariano, Josh Englehart, and Zac Dolch look at fossils in the courthouse floor. the blade/lori king The public can see the 1884 Seneca County Courthouse when tours continue today. Jim and Rose Dariano, left, Marge Alpay, Josh Dariano, Josh Englehart, and Zac Dolch look at fossils in the courthouse floor. the blade/lori king The public can see the 1884 Seneca County Courthouse when tours continue today.
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TIFFIN - Walking through the Seneca County Courthouse on the second weekend of tours before a March 4 bond-issue vote, some folks were awe-struck by the solid cherry carved woodwork, the marble and limestone floors, the 22-foot high ceilings, and the intricately decorated door hinges.

Others saw the wiring strung across the carved door frames, the smallish rooms, the odd remodeling work, and the peeling paint, and found little worth saving.

The 1884 Beaux Arts-style, sandstone courthouse designed by noted American architect Elijah E. Myers, seemed to draw "love it" or "hate it" feelings from many of yesterday's 122 tourists.

Jim Dariano, 43, a machinist from rural Tiffin, found the building historically significant and quite usable.

The debate of whether to renovate the building or tear it down reminded him of Mohawk Local School District's decisions to demolish buildings he found adequate. He blames those decisions in part for later financial difficulties.

Ken Gaietto, 47, of Tiffin, a route driver for a vending company, saw the courthouse from a different angle. To him, it looked hard to heat, hard to cool, and not nearly special enough to make up for such factors.

"I don't feel anything here,"

Mr. Gaietto said.

David Dow of Tiffin put his thoughts more strongly.

"It feels like you're in a maze," he said after climbing the courthouse's double stairways. "It's seen its day. It's time to move on. Tear this son of a gun down. Plant some grass. And we wouldn't miss it at all. We've gotten along good without it for how many years? It's worthless."

Supporters of saving the courthouse have been framing their remarks in no uncertain terms for months, and yesterday was no exception.

"This is a building that could not be built today by any construction company," said Dieter Schneppat, a retiree from rural Tiffin, who explained that he thought some of the carvings in the building are a lost art.

"The building is just magnificent," he said, adding it would be treasured in many regions. "Everyone who says this old thing should come down has never been to Europe, never been to Rome."

The vote on an $8.5 million bond issue for the courthouse is on the primary election ballot. While the bond issue would support renovation of the courthouse, commissioners have vowed not to collect the tax, but use it only to obtain a lower interest rate on the money borrowed for the project.

The vote likely will be key to the commissioners, however, in determining the prevailing opinion of their constituents.

Yesterday was the first time that all three county commissioners were on hand for a public courthouse tour.

Commissioner Mike Bridinger, who has favored restoring the courthouse, said he was asked, "Is the heat really on all the time?" The answer is yes; the commissioners keep the vacant building at about 55 degrees to prevent further deterioration.

Commissioner Dave Sauber, Sr., who earlier wanted to tear the courthouse down, but now says he's open to considering possible offers of state aid, said he was asked repeatedly: "Why has the courthouse been left go to this point?" Unfortunately, he said, it's a question that doesn't have a good answer.

He said he believed most people touring the courthouse want to save it. And he said he was inspired by the count of about 1,000 people who visited the courthouse during its first open house in late December.

However, he noted that while he ran errands early yesterday, three people at three locations told him the courthouse needs to be demolished.

Commissioner Ben Nutter, who like Mr. Sauber has favored demolition but has said he wants to consider aid offers, said he was asked, "Can this building be renovated to be usable and likable to judges?" The answer, he said, is yes.

"Certainly no one could debate the historic significance of an 1884 courthouse," he said. But he added it would be irresponsible to start restoration without a plan for paying for it.

The courthouse is to be open today from 1 to 4 p.m. and again from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 16 and 17.

Contact Jane Schmucker at: jschmucker@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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