TIFFIN - Gov. Ted Strickland told Seneca County commissioners that he will seek $2 million in state funds to help the county renovate its 1884 courthouse - if voters approve a bond issue for the courthouse March 4, Commissioner Ben Nutter announced last night.
At a voters' forum on the courthouse issue at Tiffin Columbian High School, Mr. Nutter delivered the governor's commitment.
"The great news we have is if we can show the governor and the General Assembly we are committed to this project with a yes vote on the $8.5 million bond issue, then they are committed to getting us $2 million," he said.
Commissioners have promised they will not collect the property tax if the bond issue is approved but would use existing revenues to pay off bonds that will be sold to renovate the vacant courthouse. If voters reject the bond issue, the board will move ahead with demolishing the historic building - almost immediately, Mr. Nutter said last night.
"If the bond issue would fail, we will have a bid packet to send out to the demolition arena for people to bid on removal of the 1884 courthouse within days of the March 4 vote," he said.
If voters approve the 0.72-mill issue, plans for the building's restoration also would begin immediately.
Theresa Sullivan, a member of the Save Our Courthouse committee, quoted plans outlined by Westlake, Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland restoration firm, that predicted the design phase would take about a year followed by another year of actual restoration work.
"The Westlake proposal says restoration would be completed and we'd have a brand new, restored courthouse by July, 2010," she said.
Many of the questions posed to the panelists centered around financial issues involving the proposed renovation, which could cost as much as $10.5 million, as well as the indirect value the project might have for the downtown business district and the county as a whole.
John Bing, chairman of the political science department at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, said he believed a renovated courthouse "would present to the community a very visible and very powerful symbol of justice. It would express the centrality of law to the stability of the well-being of the community, but it is very hard to quantify what that value is in dollars-and-cents terms to the well-being of a community."
Mr. Bing hasn't been involved with the courthouse issue but sat on the panel with Mr. Nutter and Mrs. Sullivan as a "neutral" party. When asked how soon renovation or demolition would begin after the election, he said he would like to hear more discussion of how long a new building would last versus a renovated old building.
"It seems to me if we are looking at the true or real costs to the county we ought to also be factoring in the longevity of the two options," Mr. Bing said. "The  courthouse served the county for more than 100 years, and I think a renovated one would last at least that long."
Mrs. Sullivan said courthouses like the one built in downtown Tiffin in 1884 were built to last forever.
"When we gave the tours that was one of the things that impressed people so much - the intricate woodwork, the thickness of the walls," she said. "There's no way you're going to put your fists through those walls."
Mr. Nutter, who previously voted in favor of demolition, did not ask residents to vote for or against the bond issue. He told the 100 or so people at the forum that if the bond issue passes, commissioners are committed to going after any and all possible funding sources.
"The maximum out-of-pocket cost is going to be $8.5 million, and we're going to work very hard to ebb away at the $8.5 million should the voters decide they want to go forward with the renovation project," he said.
Mr. Bing said some residents are concerned that future boards of commissioners may elect to collect the tax if it passes. He also said some people would vote against "the threat of additional taxes" whether it was tied to a new courthouse or a restored one.
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