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Published: Wednesday, 7/15/2009

Seneca poised to hear cost to fix courthouse

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN - Seneca County commissioners have been waiting to see the numbers that would make renovating the county's 1884 courthouse feasible.

Yesterday, Franklin Conaway promised they'd have all the numbers they need down to the price of the last nut and bolt when the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group makes its final presentation to commissioners Monday.

His group plans to outline a number of financing options then, but it also will recommend what it considers the best course of action for getting the project done in the tough economy.

"I cannot tell you what that recommendation is at this time," Mr. Conaway said. "All of us together will work on what we think is a proper recommendation. However, I can tell you what it will not be, and it will not be a recommendation to demolish the courthouse."

Christopher Spellmire, area director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, yesterday outlined for commissioners the agency's community facility loan program, which could finance the courthouse renovation at an interest rate of 4.375 percent over 30 to 35 years.

Mr. Conaway said the Ag Department "appears to have the lowest interest rate and the best terms." Although he shied from talking about specific cost estimates, another member of the development group, Dwight McCabe, said the group plans to recommend the courthouse clock tower and dome be restored completely with private donations and grants.

Mr. Conaway said the group felt "that whatever funding the county puts its name on the line for should go directly for the functional spaces to service the citizens of Seneca County."

"We feel the restoration of the tower and dome are extremely important for community reasons," he added, referring to the public disdain for the plain, boxy structure that replaced the original tower in the 1940s.

"It's a grand monument in itself," Mr. Conaway said. "It will be again, but also the proper restoration of the courthouse, all of the architectural elements of the courthouse, inside and outside, many of which have been hidden or removed over the years, are very important, we think, as a stimulus to other [downtown] projects right now that are on the drawing board."

Mr. Conaway said the design for the renovated courthouse will use space that was previously empty and nonfunctional.

It also will create a first-floor entrance off Market Street where visitors will pass through security and enter either the courthouse or the annex next door.

He conceded that the development group has not applied for any grants for the project but said it has prepared the applications for many of them and has received assurance that money will be available for the project once commissioners agree to move forward with renovation.

"We've worked very, very hard to bring this to the point we are at today, but we cannot actually proceed with any official application for funding until you, the board of Seneca County commissioners pass a resolution to move forward with the project," Mr. Conaway said.

"I'm going to allow other people to explain that to you, but I do want to emphasize a significant amount of money is ready very quickly and they will confirm that to you," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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