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Published: Friday, 7/11/2008

Bids to raze Tiffin's Seneca County courthouse come in low

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Bids to level what some consider the most historically significant building in Seneca County and one of the most significant in Ohio came in lower than expected yesterday - to the delight of county commissioners.

B&B Wrecking & Excavating of Cleveland submitted the lowest base bid at $369,000 - a full $251,000 less than the engineer's estimate of $620,000 for demolition of the 1884 courthouse.

"I think they're great," Commission President Dave Sauber said after bids from seven contractors were opened. "I think some are a little excessive but you have to look at the distance they would be coming and bringing their equipment."

The highest bid, $667,552, was submitted by a Denver firm. The rest ranged from $466,160 to $662,000. All included optional deductions if the contractor salvaged architectural features or scrap metal from the building.

Commissioners did not award a bid but made it clear they intended to do so sooner than later.

Although commissioners still are in discussions with Tiffin's Architectural Board of Review over alternatives to demolition, Commissioner Ben Nutter said if the review board declines to OK demolition at its next meeting with commissioners July 17, he would support a motion to immediately appeal the matter to the city's board of zoning appeals and ask for an expedited hearing

"For me, there's really nothing else to discuss with the Architectural Board of Review other than maybe one more time trying to restate our position," Mr. Nutter said.

On June 10, the review board unanimously denied the county's application for a certificate of appropriateness to tear down the Beaux Arts style courthouse that was designed by noted American architect Elijah My-ers. The board determined the demolition was inconsistent with a city ordinance created to preserve historic architecture in downtown Tiffin.

After two meetings with the review board, Mr. Nutter said it was clear to him that some members of the board would accept nothing short of restoring the courthouse. He said it would be futile to continue to "listen to roadblock after roadblock and suggestion after suggestion" when commissioners are convinced of the need to demolish and replace the courthouse.

Mr. Nutter said he did not believe it was the review board's intent to try to reverse a decision voters had made twice - first by rejecting a 0.25 percent sales tax hike in 2002 to pay for renovation of the courthouse and then by defeating an $8.5 million bond issue in March to support renovation.

"I thought their intent was to make sure the outside of the structure stays in accordance with the area," Mr. Sauber said.

"And the next one will," Mr. Nutter replied.

"I know it will," Mr. Sauber said.

MKC Associates of Mansfield is in the early stages of drawing up plans for a new courthouse.

A representative of MKC, which also was hired to oversee demolition, is to meet with commissioners Monday to review the demolition bids.

Rayella Engle, who supports preserving the courthouse, said commissioners clearly were not making a good-faith effort to comply with the city's design review ordinance.

"There's still money out there. We're still in line in Columbus," she said, referring to an application Seneca County submitted for the state's historic tax credit program.

Commissioner Mike Bridinger, who had stated his hope that the courthouse could be renovated, said after the meeting that he remains open to alternative ideas from the board of review, including the report that's expected from Chillicothe, Ohio, preservation consultant Franklin Conaway.

Mr. Conaway is analyzing what, if anything, the courthouse could be used for if commissioners were to build a new court building on a different site.

"I want it to run its course," Mr. Bridinger said. "We still have the option of Mr. Conaway. Who knows? There could be something new come to our attention."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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