TIFFIN -- The 1884 Seneca County courthouse appears to be on a $373,000 path toward destruction.
County commissioners Tuesday opened bids for the demolition of the downtown landmark and said they plan to award a contract when they next meet on Nov. 17.
Jim Schmidt, a principal with MKC Associates, an architectural firm hired for $5,000 to oversee the bidding process, said the firm would analyze the bids before making its recommendation to commissioners.
"The price is [right] assuming everything checks out," Commissioner Jeff Wagner said after the two bids were opened.
B&B Wrecking of Cleveland -- which proffered the low bid for demolition of the courthouse in 2008 -- again submitted the low bid at $373,000. The only other bid came from Dore and Associates Contracting of Bay City, Mich., at $528,200.
It was unknown why so few firms bid on the project. County Administrator Stacy Wilson said 11 contractors took out bid packages, and 11 people showed up for a pre-bid meeting and walk through the courthouse, although some of them may have been from the same company.
When commissioners were considering demolition in 2008, B&B Wrecking submitted the low bid of $369,000 with a $4,000 deduction if it salvaged some architectural features. This time around, neither B&B nor Dore and Associates included deductions for salvaging portions of the building.
"This bid is haul her away," Mr. Wagner said during a break in the board's meetings.
"I feel sorry for the folks that this is their passion," he added. "There's a fair amount of people this building is important to, and I want to respect their feelings, but it's time to move on."
Mr. Wagner and Commissioner Ben Nutter say they intend to vote to demolish the courthouse, in part because the county cannot afford an $8 million renovation plan that once looked promising. The board had supported the plan until earlier this year when the state legislature slashed local government funds -- an annual loss to Seneca County of some $700,000.
Commissioner Dave Sauber said he opposes demolition because he doesn't think the county can afford to tear the building down. He favors a proposal by the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group to mothball the courthouse and make some improvements to its exterior at no cost to the county.
On Tuesday, Jackie Fletcher, president of the Tiffin Historic Trust, presented commissioners with another option -- an offer from her group to purchase the courthouse for $100,000.
"The courthouse is a public building that belongs to all of us and we are all stewards of that building," she said. "Our purpose is to pursue the use of the building in the county in the best interest of the community and to improve the building's appearance and to explore all the options, to leave open options for future commissioners."
Ms. Fletcher placed a check for $1,000 in earnest money on the table before the board, but Mr. Sauber asked her to keep it.
"Take the check because if we did something like that, there would have to be a public auction," Mr. Sauber said referring to a state law that requires public property to be sold at public auction.
None of the commissioners commented on the group's offer during the meeting, but said afterward that it was not a reasonable option for the county.
Despite the fact that their minds seem to be made up, commissioners listened as several members of the audience enunciated reasons for saving -- and razing -- the building, which has been vacant since 2004.
Mr. Nutter defended his change of opinion on the future of the courthouse, which he said always has been based exclusively on financial considerations.
"Based on today's information and based on what the future of government is, the right thing to do is to remove that building," he said.
His comment prompted Franklin Conaway, president of the redevelopment group, to renew his plea to save the courthouse, saying renovation remains the most cost-effective plan for providing space for the county's common pleas courts.
"The wise thing to do, the right thing to do, the fair thing to do, and the reasonable thing to do is figure out how you can at least keep that resource there so it remains available as long as it can be done in a way that causes you no additional obligations -- financial or otherwise -- and possibly even can put some additional money into the county's coffers," he said.
Joseph Granata of Tiffin reminded commissioners that county voters twice rejected sales tax increases to pay for renovating the courthouse and in 2008 defeated a bond issue for the courthouse.
"You do what you have to do with the money that you have available," he said. "… Three times the verdict came back 'no.' "
Several people said they did not agree, that residents did not vote to tear down the courthouse but simply to reject a tax increase.
"The question has never been put to the voters, would they pay a tax to demolish the courthouse?" said Tiffin attorney John Barga. "I think it would go down just as hard as the issues on there to raise money to renovate it."
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