Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Verdict split on new courthouse

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    The new home of the 6th District Court of Appeals is at Spielbusch and Cherry.

  • Verdict-split-on-new-courthouse-2

    At 38,000 square feet, the building has more than five times the space of the present court facility, the former sheriff's residence a few blocks away on Jackson. This second-floor view of the entry looks onto the Civic Center Mall.

It's only a building - a brand-new, taxpayer-financed, black-and-buff courthouse at Cherry Street and Spielbusch Avenue.

But it brings out the passion in some people.

“I think it stinks,” says Melvin Resnick, a retired 6th District Court of Appeals judge.

“It's awful,” says architect Daryl Blanchard. “A courthouse should be monumental, an architectural statement that says `important decisions are made here.' Instead we get a Motel 6.”


At 38,000 square feet, the building has more than five times the space of the present court facility, the former sheriff's residence a few blocks away on Jackson. This second-floor view of the entry looks onto the Civic Center Mall.


But Major Jack Ford says it's beautiful.

“It's a signature building, an anchor for the Civic Center Mall, a key gateway to the city,” says John Alexander, Lucas County's assistant administrator.

James Bell, the Poggemeyer Design Group project coordinator who oversees the job, says he is “proud of parts of it.”

It's the new 6th District Court of Appeals building, a $7.5-million, L-shaped complex of offices, meeting rooms, and an octagonal courtroom, set atop a 22-stall underground garage. It sits on a pie-shaped lot with its faux-stone face pointing down the mall and its back to the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway.

The court will move to the new facility in September, a much-needed change said court Administrator Donna Kiroff.

The five-judge panel and its support staff is now shoe-horned into the 7,000-square-foot county sheriff's residence on Jackson Street, a historic structure so crowded it violates fire codes.

The new building offers 38,000 square feet of space. Ms. Kiroff's affection for the place is all about function, not form.

“Storage room! We never had that before,” exulted Ms. Kiroff. “A supply room, copy room, a break room, shelves! We can walk down the halls without tripping over boxes.”

Judge Resnick, who retired from the appellate court in February, pushed the commissioners for years to build the new courthouse. It does not meet his expectations.

“Those gray stones look like hell,” he said. “That doesn't look judicial.”

But Judge Peter Handwork, who is a member of the appellate court and who helped choose the architect and design, said he is “thrilled at how the building turned out. It's functional and most attractive. It's dignified.”

The building is meant for settling disputes, not creating controversy.

In 1999, Lucas County commissioners first saw drawings of a three-story granite and stucco structure presented by HDR Architecture, Inc., of Dallas, a Poggemeyer subcontractor.

The plan featured a three-story atrium, wiring for teleconferences, and space enough for the court to grow to seven judges. When builders' bids came in well over the $7.5 million budget, commissioners started lowering expectations and altering plans.

The third floor was lopped off and the atrium axed. Graceful curves were redesigned as angles. A clerk of courts annex and offices for a future judge were eliminated.

Sandy Isenberg, former president of the commissioners, said the board didn't want to run up costs to outlying counties also served by the court. Lucas County paid 51 percent of the bill; the rest was divided among Erie, Fulton, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky, Williams, and Wood counties according to their populations.

Ms. Isenberg said the second, scaled-down plan was better than the first.

“This is a much more workable and efficient building,” she said. “It will be much prettier on the mall. It has better balance and design, and certainly a much better price.”

Poggemeyer will be paid $507,900 for the two designs and subsequent project oversight.

Project coordinator Bell said the blueprint was a group effort.

“There have been a few architects involved: some consultants at first, and then Fred Arn, who left. Next it was Mike Arnold, but he left, too. If there's a question of the building looking clumsy, it's probably because we eliminated the third floor ... From behind, from Cherry Street, yeah, I see that point. We had to make some dramatic changes there. But the original schematic design, the concept? It was done by HDR, in Texas. That criticism should be directed to them.”

Mr. Bell described the building's style as “postmodern.”

Katerina Ruidi-Ray, an architect who heads the art department at Bowling Green State University, called it “bland, cheap, and vulgar, an architecture of indifference, a tribute to a lack of civic commitment to architectural quality.”

Dick Putney, an architectural historian at the University of Toledo, oversaw the Toledo Museum of Art addition designed by Frank Gehry. He called the new courthouse “uninspired.”

“You could say this is just a matter of a tight budget, but our art museum proved you can get a lot of building on a tight budget,” he said.

But Ms. Isenberg said yesterday she likes the look of the new building.

“You're not going to be able to please everyone,” she said. “I was certainly not pleased early on about the design. I had several hissy fits, but we had to make changes to stay within our budget.”

“The commissioners promised the city a landmark, a signature building,” Mr. Alexander said. “We've delivered.”

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