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Published: Thursday, 9/10/2009

Seneca officials get preview


CLEVELAND - From 700 feet below the Terminal Tower to the observation deck on its 42nd floor, Seneca County commissioners yesterday got a good look at the cornices, columns, and balusters that look original but were actually reproduced in fiber glass.

"I think the product we're looking at is amazing," Commissioner Dave Sauber said during a break in the tour. "It's amazing to the point that it looks real."

A nearly $8 million proposal to restore Seneca County's 1884 courthouse includes plans to replicate the facade of the original clock tower and dome in fiber glass, a project expected to be less expensive to create up front and to maintain long-term.

Commissioners, two staff members, and five members of the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group met with representatives of Architectural Fiberglass Inc., toured the company's east-side manufacturing plant, then headed downtown, where they saw a number of buildings where the company had left its mark.

The firm fabricated cornices on the Huntington Building, a new tower on Historic St. Peter Church, and the figures of two firefighters putting out the flames at the firefighter's memorial outside the Cleveland Browns stadium.

At the Terminal Tower, an iconic 52-story office building downtown, the group was treated to a number of views of the work Architectural Fiberglass did as part of the landmark's nearly completed, four-year exterior restoration.

Seneca County officials and members of a redevelopment group get a look at ornate architectural items made from fiber glass. Seneca County officials and members of a redevelopment group get a look at ornate architectural items made from fiber glass.

"Clearly, this would be the way to go," Commissioner Ben Nutter said. "But I was sold before I came."

Mr. Nutter said he had visited a new county courthouse in Michigan that had a fiber-glass tower and knew how closely the material can be made to resemble masonry and other finishes.

Franklin Conaway, who heads the redevelopment group, said using fiber glass is one of the ways his group was able to bring in the estimated cost of the courthouse renovation under $8 million - $3 million less than previous estimates commissioners had gotten.

"If this technology weren't available, the cost to renovate the courthouse would be significantly higher," Mr. Conaway said.

Columbus architect Bob Loversidge, a member of the development group, said re-creating the clock tower in its original stone, cast iron, and terra cotta would simply be cost-prohibitive.

The development group has committed to raising at least $1.45 million to pay for the restoration of the tower and other decorative elements of the courthouse. Just last month, commissioners voted 3-0 in favor of working with the development group to restore the courthouse, though their support is contingent upon securing the funding and the project coming in at the estimated price.

In response to the commissioners' inquiries about fiber glass, Steven Dobronos of Architectural Fiberglass said the exterior building pieces molded from fiber glass have an indefinite life span. The material is impervious to moisture, he said.

"It's been on buildings 60 years now, and there's no sign of deterioration," he said.

Architectural Fiberglass was started 20 years ago primarily to manufacture domes for churches and mosques from fiber glass, although in the last decade, it has done work in all 50 states.

Commissioner Mike Bridinger was sold.

"I don't think there's any question they can replicate anything and everything we want," he said. "I think [fiber glass] supplies the surface we need and it's very cost-effective."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:


or 419-724-6129.

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