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Published: Monday, 2/18/2008

Last Seneca County courthouse tour held; next is March 4 vote

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Volunteer guide Paula Crum, right, welcomes Avanell and Lester Morter to a tour of the Seneca County Courthouse yesterday. The 1884 Beaux Arts-style, sandstone courthouse in Tiffin was designed by noted American architect Elijah E. Myers. Volunteer guide Paula Crum, right, welcomes Avanell and Lester Morter to a tour of the Seneca County Courthouse yesterday. The 1884 Beaux Arts-style, sandstone courthouse in Tiffin was designed by noted American architect Elijah E. Myers.
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TIFFIN - Heidelberg College student David Bumb ran his hand along intricate, solid cherry woodwork and down an etched-glass window inside the Seneca County Courthouse.

He laughed when asked to consider what it would cost to replicate the features inside the 1884 Beaux Arts-style, sandstone courthouse, which is to be renovated or razed.

Despite peeling paint above his head from the 22-foot-high ceilings and other signs of decay, the 18-year-old said he was convinced saving the building is the right course of action.

"Cities should have historic monuments and buildings and if you tear it down, then Tiffin is just like any other town," Mr. Bumb said.

Yesterday was the final day for the public to tour the building before county voters decide its fate.

An $8.5 million bond issue for the courthouse is on the March 4 primary election ballot.

While the bond issue would support renovation of the courthouse, commissioners have vowed not to collect the tax, but to use the issue only to obtain a premium interest rate on the money borrowed for the project, said Commissioner Ben Nutter, who met with each of yesterday's 125 visitors at the last stop in the tour.

Mr. Nutter said he and Commissioner Dave Sauber both voted earlier to tear the courthouse down.

Clouds loom over the Seneca County Courthouse during the last tours before the bond vote. Clouds loom over the Seneca County Courthouse during the last tours before the bond vote.
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"Neither I nor Commissioner Sauber are - although we've been accused of it - are anti-courthouse," he said. "What we are for is responsible fiscal management."

Teresa Sullivan, a member of the Save Our Courthouse Committee, said the tours have been an excellent way to educate voters.

"I think saving this courthouse is a testament on how you see government, not just a block building," Ms. Sullivan said.

Cassie Stockner, 8, who toured the courthouse with her Brownie troop, gave the thumbs up for renovating the building.

"I think it's really nice and they should save it," she said. "My favorite room was the courtroom."

Seneca County Commissioner Ben Nutter, left, along with Jim Stultz, center, speaks to Janelle and Steve Reino about Gov. Ted Strickland s interest in the courthouse. Mr. Nutter favored demolition early on, saying it would be irresponsible to start restoration
without a plan to pay for it. Now he says he wants to
consider aid for renovation. Commissioner Dave
Sauber has sided with Mr. Nutter. Commissioner Mike Bridinger has worked for renovation.
Seneca County Commissioner Ben Nutter, left, along with Jim Stultz, center, speaks to Janelle and Steve Reino about Gov. Ted Strickland s interest in the courthouse. Mr. Nutter favored demolition early on, saying it would be irresponsible to start restoration without a plan to pay for it. Now he says he wants to consider aid for renovation. Commissioner Dave Sauber has sided with Mr. Nutter. Commissioner Mike Bridinger has worked for renovation.
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Although none was apparent yesterday, tour guide Gary Dundore said he has occasionally been aware of opponents to restoration walking through.

"They say it's too old and let's just tear it down," Mr. Dundore said.

His wife, Jan, described the courthouse as the "most endangered historic building in the state."

State Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo) - who along with Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) endorsed a bipartisan bill that would reserve five Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits for county-owned buildings such as the courthouse in Tiffin - toured the building for the first time yesterday.

The bill would make it clear that counties would be eligible for the cash benefits of the tax credits, though they don't pay taxes.

An etched window is one of the numerous historic details that have wowed some visitors and failed to impress others.
An etched window is one of the numerous historic details that have wowed some visitors and failed to impress others.
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It also would allow counties to benefit from the tax credits without having to meet the same 15-year payback provisions that private businesses must meet to qualify for the program.

When asked why the courthouse should be saved, Mr. Ujvagi replied: "Are you kidding? Just look at it. It's a part of our history.

"You can have a building that's 100 years old and still have the most high-tech equipment and use green technologies," he said. "We're such a disposable society."

Mr. Ujvagi added that the building shouldn't have been allowed to deteriorate to its current condition.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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