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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2008

Seneca County delays hiring firm to raze courthouse

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Architects hired to oversee the demolition of Seneca County's 1884 courthouse yesterday recommended commissioners hire a Cleveland firm to raze the downtown landmark at a cost of $365,000.

While the bid was considerably lower than commissioners had anticipated, they took no action on the recommendation from MKC Associates, in part because they are negotiating with Tiffin's Architectural Board of Review over alternatives to demolition.

The county has until Sept. 10 to enter into a contract with B&B Wrecking & Excavating, which submitted the lowest bid for tearing down the vacant courthouse, and Commission President Dave Sauber said he will vote in favor of the demolition contract "unless there's something etched in stone in writing" from a private entity willing to renovate the courthouse before Sept. 10.

Commissioners also are awaiting a written commitment from Gov. Ted Strickland on what kind of help the state is willing to provide to save the courthouse. His office has said the governor would find $500,000 up front to help a new owner buy the building and try to secure $1.5 million in the future for renovation.

"We really want to know what direction they're going to go and without that document, we don't know," Commissioner Mike Bridinger said.

At a meeting with the city review board last week, commissioners agreed to continue talks after hearing a presentation from Franklin Conaway, a preservation consultant from Chillicothe, Ohio, who examined the old courthouse and concluded it would be feasible for a "trustworthy nonprofit entity" to renovate the building for anything from concerts, wedding receptions, and small conferences to government offices, retail stores, and restaurants.

Mr. Conaway is putting together a proposal for the building that is to include commitments from the private groups that would be involved in the project. He is to report on his progress at the next meeting between commissioners and the review board Aug. 12.

Mr. Sauber said that while he is open to any viable plan that would help boost the local economy, he is uneasy about giving up the courthouse's prime location and the efficiencies and convenience associated with building a new courthouse adjacent to the courthouse annex. He suggested that any state financial assistance directed toward saving the courthouse ought to come to the county, which has spent considerable time and money on the issue.

Commissioner Ben Nutter said he would be meeting with John Haseley, the governor's chief of staff, in Columbus today and would relay commissioners' concerns to him, including the need for any private developer to adhere to a strict timeline to renovate the building.

"To not put timelines on it and just transfer it - the landscape is littered with examples of why that won't work," Mr. Nutter said, referring to the former East Junior High School, which has been vacant and neglected for several years.

County resident Delmar

Goshe questioned Mr. Conaway's proposed uses for the courthouse, which he said are some of the same things he heard proposed for the East Junior High building.

"None of them materialized," he said. " What you guys are looking into, you better make doggone sure it won't sit like an eyesore like that junior high building."

Mr. Goshe has been a critic of plans to renovate the historic courthouse.

Contacted after the meeting, Theresa Sullivan, president of the Tiffin Historic Trust, said she has confidence Mr. Conaway will come through with a solid plan for the courthouse.

"He's going to see this plan through and carry it out," she said. "He's had a lot of experience doing it. I totally put my faith in him and know he's working with the right people and he's doing what needs to be done."

Also yesterday, Seneca County's Emergency Medical Service Director Ken Majors talked to commissioners about the shortage of volunteers the agency has to staff its rescue squads.

Mr. Majors said the situation "came to a critical point" Sunday evening when an emergency call came in from the Kansas area and the two nearest EMS squads were out of service because of a lack of personnel. A third squad was called and responded, but it was stopped by a train. Finally, Fostoria was called in for mutual aid and went to assist the patient, who was having an asthma attack.

"The writing's on the wall," Mr. Majors said. "We need help as far as volunteers and you can't make people volunteer. I think we're to the point where we're going to have to put on some paid people."

Commissioner Sauber asked Mr. Majors to return Monday with cost estimates for hiring a paramedic for weekdays and stationing him or her in the part of the county with the least EMS coverage. Mr. Sauber said he also believed it was time to start considering a countywide EMS levy to support the agency.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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