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Published: Tuesday, 12/6/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Seneca board, foes renew courthouse clash

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A Tiffin Historic Trust officer read a letter from 36 courthouse supporters accusing Commissioners Jeff Wagner and Ben Nutter of not wanting the public to know that funding to renovate the courthouse is in place and the 1883 building could be renovated and used in a way financially beneficial to taxpayers. A Tiffin Historic Trust officer read a letter from 36 courthouse supporters accusing Commissioners Jeff Wagner and Ben Nutter of not wanting the public to know that funding to renovate the courthouse is in place and the 1883 building could be renovated and used in a way financially beneficial to taxpayers.
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TIFFIN — A war of words raged Monday between Seneca County residents who want to preserve their historic courthouse and the two county commissioners who want to demolish the downtown landmark.

Theresa Sullivan, vice president of the Tiffin Historic Trust, read a strongly worded letter from 36 courthouse supporters accusing Commissioners Jeff Wagner and Ben Nutter of not wanting the public to know “the truth” — that funding to renovate the courthouse remains in place and that the 1883 building could be renovated and used “in a manner that is financially beneficial” to county taxpayers.

“Frankly, we are convinced that two of you are completely abrogating your responsibilities as commissioners to provide our courts and the citizens of Seneca County with a courthouse that meets all requirements of the law,” Ms. Sullivan said.

Looking Mr. Nutter in the eye, she asked him to move to delay demolition and let the county’s bond counsel meet with representatives of the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group. The group, which came up with the $8 million plan to renovate the courthouse, has been asking commissioners for weeks for a meeting to discuss ways to make the project financially feasible.

Mr. Nutter, who previously supported the renovation plan, refused.

“At the end of the day, the deal that I agreed to doesn’t exist anymore,” Mr. Nutter said. “I won’t be a party to kicking the can down the road and letting the next … commissioners deal with the problem because that’s exactly how we ended up in this position in the first place, and I won’t do it.”

Both Mr. Nutter and Mr. Wagner last week signed a $373,000 contract with B&B Wrecking and Excavating of Cleveland to raze the courthouse within 60 days. Dave Sauber, president of the board, refused to sign the contract and repeated Monday that he doesn’t want the county to spend a dime on demolition because money is too tight.

Deiter Schneppat lambasted the commissioners for being stubborn and unwilling to listen.

“Mr. Nutter, you have for years always said, ‘I’m concerned with the taxpayers’ money,’ [yet] you are willing to tear down a $25 million property that belongs to all of us, spend $400,000 to take it down, and end up with nothing?” he asked. “Is that taking good care of the taxpayers’ money?”

Rayella Engle, a downtown property owner, reiterated her demands that commissioners disclose as much information as possible to the public about the demolition and specifically to those who own property near the courthouse.

Mr. Nutter said he has asked MKC Associates to prepare a letter for adjacent property owners about what to expect during demolition. MKC is the Mansfield architectural firm hired by commissioners to oversee demolition of the courthouse.

While Ms. Engle said some individuals had been contacted by a firm called Salvage Nation, which said it would be salvaging items from the courthouse prior to demolition, commissioners said they had not heard of the firm.

Mr. Nutter said B&B has the right to hire subcontractors for the job. “How they defray their demolition costs is up to them,” he said.

Contacted after the meeting, David Ponder, owner of Salvage Nation in Lexington, Ky., said he was in Tiffin last week to see the courthouse and bid on salvage rights but that B&B so far had not accepted his bid. He said he typically contacts local people who may be interested in purchasing items from a building that’s being razed to gauge the market.

“It is a really grand structure,” Mr. Ponder said of the courthouse. “There’s cherry in the top rooms, nice hard pine in the first floor — great stuff. It’s kind of depressing because it’s such a nice building.”

County Administrator Stacy Wilson said B&B so far has not submitted the names of any subcontractors it intends to use on the job. She said she met with B&B last week but has not received an updated timetable of when it expects to begin demolition. B&B is responsible for remediating all environmental issues, including asbestos, which must be done prior to demolition.

While courthouse supporters insist they are not giving up, Ms. Sullivan declined to say afterward what their next move might be.

Franco Ruffini, deputy state historic preservation officer, attended the meeting Monday but did not address commissioners. He said afterward that he was there to observe.

“We’re still thinking about this and exploring what we might be able to do,” Mr. Ruffini said.

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



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