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Published: Tuesday, 9/9/2008

Seneca delays courthouse demolition

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Just months after Seneca County's 1884 courthouse seemed destined for the wrecking ball, the commissioners voted 3-0 to delay their plans until Nov. 10 to allow the Seneca County Courthouse Development Group to develop proposals that would allow the historic building to become a focal point of development.
<br>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO1599743.GIF> <b><font color=red>MULTIMEDIA</font color=red> </b>: <a href=" /assets/swf/TO29576106.SWF" target="_blank "><b>Seneca County Courthouse</b></a>
Just months after Seneca County's 1884 courthouse seemed destined for the wrecking ball, the commissioners voted 3-0 to delay their plans until Nov. 10 to allow the Seneca County Courthouse Development Group to develop proposals that would allow the historic building to become a focal point of development. <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO1599743.GIF> <b><font color=red>MULTIMEDIA</font color=red> </b>: <a href=" /assets/swf/TO29576106.SWF" target="_blank "><b>Seneca County Courthouse</b></a>
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

TIFFIN - A development group has two months to fashion a plan for preserving Seneca County's 1884 courthouse that will meet the county commissioners' approval.

The commissioners yesterday voted 3-0 to delay their planned demolition of the local landmark at least until Nov. 10, when the Seneca County Courthouse Development Group is to have two proposals for saving the courthouse before them. The development group, led by preservation consultant Franklin Conaway of Chillicothe, Ohio, agreed to submit the proposals that:

•Call for having a port authority own, renovate, and lease the courthouse to Seneca County to use as a courthouse.

•Call for a port authority to transfer ownership of the courthouse to a private developer that would take advantage of tax credits and renovate the building for noncourt-related functions. Commissioners then would build a new courthouse on another site.

As a condition of the agreement, Commissioner Ben Nutter insisted the development group secure an option to buy the former East Junior High School site cater-cornered to the courthouse square. That would be the most logical for a new courthouse if the commissioners decide to go that route, he said.

The agreement with the development group was made contingent upon the two sides agreeing to a dollar amount the county would be reimbursed for the expenses it has incurred so far relating to demolition.

Mr. Nutter said that would be at least $86,000 - the amount the county paid MKC Associates to prepare bid specifications for demolishing the old courthouse.

B&B Wrecking & Excavating of Cleveland, which submitted the low bid of $365,000 to raze the courthouse, has agreed to extend its bid through Jan. 1.

Mr. Conaway told the commissioners his group is working with the city of Tiffin and Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. to develop adaptive-use proposals for other downtown buildings, including the former high school and former post office.

"We absolutely feel that this is the best time to also take advantage of other development opportunities in concert with the economic energy that will be created in the downtown area with the renovation of the courthouse," Mr. Conaway said, adding that he's seen that happen in other cities where a major downtown building was renovated.

He said he sees the courthouse project "as being the centerpiece for concurrent development activity."

Theresa Sullivan, president of the Tiffin Historic Trust, said after the meeting she was excited about the bigger plan for downtown. "I'm working with heritage tourism and trying to work on downtown development, and I think the whole thing is going to be an economic win for all of Tiffin," she said.

Others were just happy to see the commissioners talking positively about the courthouse they previously declared ready for the wrecking ball.

"It's been a long two years, but maybe it's been worth it," said a hopeful Rayella Engle, a courthouse proponent and one of six county residents who took the commissioners to court to try to stop demolition.

In another matter yesterday, the commissioners again met with county Treasurer Marguerite Bernard, who has been trying to balance the county's main checkbook.

Ms. Bernard provided the board with statements showing the account was out of balance by just 28 cents in July, though she conceded she had not yet reconciled the bank statements for April, May, and June.

While Ms. Bernard tried to leave the meeting shortly after telling the commissioners things were fine, a representative of the county auditor's office, Lynette Cameron, said she had not seen the paperwork from the treasurer's office and was "not comfortable that we are balanced yet."

"I'm comfortable," Ms. Bernard replied, "but Lynette will have to go through everything so she is comfortable."

After Ms. Bernard left, Tiffin resident John Carrigan told commissioners he was concerned the county had let the situation go on "way too long" and called Ms. Bernard's failure to balance the checkbook a matter of gross negligence.

Commissioner Dave Sauber said he had asked for counsel from the state treasurer's and state auditor's offices about how the commissioners ought to proceed.

Mr. Nutter said after the meeting the commissioners have no authority over the treasurer but want to make sure she fulfills her responsibilities as an elected official.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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