Seneca County residents assail courthouse decision

Seneca County residents have demanded an accounting from court commissioner Jeff Wagner of how spending $373,000 on demolition would save the county money.
Seneca County residents have demanded an accounting from court commissioner Jeff Wagner of how spending $373,000 on demolition would save the county money.

TIFFIN -- Seneca County Commissioner Jeff Wagner was taken to task Tuesday by local residents who said they don't understand why he is in such a rush to tear down the 1884 courthouse.

Lin Talbot-Koehl demanded an accounting from Mr. Wagner of how spending $373,000 on demolition would save the county money.

Rayella Engle told Mr. Wagner he ought to "write an essay" on why the courthouse is not worthy of renovation.

And Loretta Miller implored the board to give residents 90 days to see how money they could raise to save the building. She personally vowed to raise $100,000.

"What's the rush? I see no reason, no logical reason," Ms. Miller said. "Well, maybe I should ask Mr. Wagner, What logical reason is there for rushing and doing it now? Can you answer that honestly?"

Mr. Wagner said he doesn't consider the demolition to be rushed.

"This has been going on since 2002. That was the first vote. That's coming up on 10 years," he said, repeating his stance that he doesn't want to leave an abandoned building in the middle of downtown "as the symbol of downtown" and that for every one resident who wants to save the building, two tell him they want it torn down.

Mrs. Engle, who owns property in the downtown, said commissioners ought to hold informational meetings to let merchants, property owners, and the general public know what to expect during the demolition project. She questioned how the project would affect city streets and neighboring property owners. She asked, as others did, where the contractor, B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland, would haul the debris.

Mr. Wagner and Dave Sauber, president of the board, said they didn't know, that it would be up to B&B to lawfully raze the building and repair any damage caused.

Mrs. Engle accused commissioners of not knowing what the contract involved -- and not caring.

"I would like for [Mr. Wagner] to write an essay to me or someone on why he thinks this building is not worthy," Mrs. Engle said. "There is not one old building in the entire United States that hasn't gone through a period where it had to have upkeep, renovation, redecorating -- all of these things that have been neglected by commissioners during these years."

"Mr. Wagner, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but you don't really, truly understand how important this building is to architecture, to history," Mrs. Engle said. "All we're asking for from you is time -- a little time -- enough time that we can really get out and try to save this building."

Mr. Wagner remained unmoved by the pleas. He signed the contract with B&B, which County Administrator Stacy Wilson said she had received late on Monday.

Mr. Sauber, who has consistently opposed spending money on demolition when the county is so financially strapped, said he would not sign it. Commissioner Ben Nutter, who has supported demolition, was on vacation Tuesday.

Once Mr. Nutter signs, B&B has 60 days to complete the demolition work.

Ms. Talbot-Koehl questioned how the county would come up with the money to build a courthouse when it was so eager to walk away from grants, donations, and a low-interest loan to pay for renovating the one it already has.

"How much money are you going to gain by tearing the courthouse down? Can I see that on paper because I'm having a hard time imagining those numbers," she said.

Mr. Wagner said the county would be spending $373,000 on demolition, an expense he called "a capital improvement."

"Is the building hurting anyone?" Ms. Talbot-Koehl responded. "I'm having trouble with the math. I don't understand how we're ahead by tearing it down. I don't understand how that's the fiscally responsible thing to do."

Mr. Sauber responded simply, "I struggle [along] with you sometimes."

Mary McCall asked commissioners repeatedly whether B&B could or would salvage items from the courthouse or simply tear it down and haul it away.

"My thought is if they're going to take that stuff and sell it for a bazillion dollars, they should be taking it down for nothing," Ms. McCall said.

Mr. Wagner replied that at a prebid meeting, the contractor said it would require more effort to remove the marble than what it would be worth.

"There's a lot of other stuff there that I know from eBay and other sites is worth a lot of money that is going away from us -- again," Ms. McCall said.

Although Mr. Sauber and Mr. Wagner said B&B bid the job for demolition only with no deductions for salvage, the contract with B&B defines the scope of work as "removal and proper disposal" of the courthouse and "any/all related environmental issues associated" with demolition. "Also included is the removal and salvage of recoverable assets and specifically architecturally significant assets," the contract states.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: or 419-724-6129.