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Published: Tuesday, 9/20/2011

Seneca courthouse moves closer to demolition

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Franklin Conaway has led the  charge to preserve and restore Seneca County's 1884 courthouse. Franklin Conaway has led the charge to preserve and restore Seneca County's 1884 courthouse.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

TIFFIN — Amid talk of spending priorities, Seneca County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay $5,000 to have an architectural firm update a bid package for the demolition of the county’s 1884 courthouse.

Two of the three commissioners also said they are prepared to spend in excess of $300,000 to tear down the historic building despite the county’s ongoing financial pinch.

“There is no question in my mind the majority of people in Seneca County want it torn down,” Commissioner Jeff Wagner said after the meeting. “It’s time to tear it down.”

Asked how the county can afford the expense, Mr. Wagner said, “It’s time. This is a priority.”

Commissioner Ben Nutter, who frequently says he makes decisions for the county based on dollars and cents, said the courthouse should be demolished now “because if we don’t it will cost us more later.”

“I think history has shown us that it will be an ongoing drag on the county’s general fund. The local people who are responsible for providing that space have shown that they are not willing to dedicate additional resources to it,” he said referring to previous boards of commissioners who allowed the building to deteriorate.

“We’re going to address it,” Mr. Nutter said. “We’re going to address it by removing it.”

Commissioner Dave Sauber was largely silent during Tuesday’s meeting with MKC Associates, which in 2008 was paid nearly $86,000 to prepare drawings and specifications for demolition, to conduct an environmental assessment of the building, and to historically document the courthouse. Mr. Sauber said afterward that he doesn’t want to spend $5,000 to update the bid specifications much less tear the building down.

“We don’t have no money,” he said. “How can we do this?”

He said he favors an offer by the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group to install new windows and make other exterior improvements to the courthouse and then mothball it — at no cost to the county.

Jim Schmidt, a principal and architect with Mansfield-based MKC, told commissioners his firm would update the bid documents and see the bidding process through for $5,000. For an additional $30,000, MKC would provide a project manager to oversee the actual demolition, he said, and for $15,000 more, the firm would work with the county to develop a site plan for the vacant lot.

“I would like to see that area utilized as a tool for downtown development,” Mr. Nutter said. “I don’t think it has to be a renovated courthouse to be a tool for downtown development.”

Commissioners had supported a nearly $8 million plan put together by the development group to renovate the courthouse, which has been vacant since 2004, but they changed their minds when the state legislature slashed local government funding earlier this year. They say they cannot afford to do the project and don’t foresee that situation changing for many years.

County Administrator Stacy Wilson said commissioners likely will begin advertising for demolition bids early next month and open the bids by the end of October. When the county went out for demolition bids in 2008, B&B Wrecking & Excavating of Cleveland submitted the low bid of $365,000.

Mr. Wagner publicly thanked the local newspaper for a recent editorial that concluded, “Tear the courthouse down. It’s time to move on.” The editorial said the courthouse unfortunately “has become a manifestation of attempts to hold on to Tuesday instead of embracing tomorrow.”

Following the courthouse discussion, Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry told commissioners his department would need an estimated $295,000 to meet expenses through the end of the year.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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