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TIFFIN — Nick Borer wandered into the Antiques Warehouse in downtown Tiffin Monday morning and approached owner David Kreais.
"I heard you have some trim from the courthouse," Mr. Borer said. "Are you willing to give some of it up?"
"Eventually," replied Mr. Kreais — one of the few people who got permission from B&B Wrecking and Excavating to purchase and salvage items from the 1884 courthouse, which Seneca County commissioners ordered demolished.
The antiques dealer, who can see the crumbling courthouse from his third-story windows on East Perry Street, said he has been bombarded with phone calls and customers stopping into his shop who want a piece of their courthouse. One young woman said she wanted one of the hands from the clock on the tower. Another wanted a glass transom with "ladies waiting room" imprinted on it.
He said initially people criticized him for removing items from the courthouse. Now, they are thanking him, asking him why he didn't save more of it. He wishes he could have.
"You talk about a shame," he said, shaking his head.
Mr. Kreais said he plans to sell what he managed to salvage over about three days — the massive clockworks, a set of solid cherry doors with etched-glass windows, a bronze door knob, some woodwork, decorative crown molding, wainscoting, and cast-iron heat registers — but said he won't be doing so until the courthouse is gone.
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"I'm letting it all cool down," Mr. Kreais said, referring to the controversy over saving or razing the old courthouse.
It bothers him and many others who have stopped by to watch and photograph the demolition to see the sandstone pillars and keystones knocked from the building, to watch the cherry woodwork and ornate doors fall to the ground and shatter.
"I just think the way they did it was such a waste," said Kathy Zellner, who came into Mr. Kreais' shop to see his courthouse artifacts. She is adding onto her house and hopes to incorporate "a little history" into it.
She said she has been taking pictures of the demolition every day since it began and wished county commissioners would have salvaged things from the grand old building to incorporate into a new courthouse.
"I think that's a great loss," Ms. Zellner said. "To not put some of that into the new building, I think, is a tragedy."
Mr. Kreais estimated that only about 10 percent of the items that might have been salvaged and reused were removed from the building.
Seneca County Engineer Mark Zimmerman worked out an arrangement with B&B to have the sandstone and bricks delivered to the county garage on State Rt. 100 to use for road and bridge projects.
Brian Baumann, president of B&B, also said his crew plans to leave a pile of bricks behind the crane at the work site for the public to take beginning Wednesday. The idea is to let people get a souvenir from the courthouse. There won't be a limit on how many bricks they can take, Mr. Baumann said, although they will be allowed to take only what they can carry in their hands.
Mr. Baumann said that when he submitted his $373,000 bid to tear down the courthouse, he included potential income from salvaging items from the building. He said his bid likely would have been "$5,000 to $10,000 higher" if salvage rights were not part of the bid.
While that is not a large sum, Mr. Baumann said salvaging the colored glass windows or the black-and-white tile flooring was too labor intensive for anyone to get it done within the 60-day time frame specified in the demolition contract.
"I had many people come through here," he said. "They all said it was great, but based on everything — all the constraints I had in terms of timing — there wasn't as much salvage value as everyone talked about."
Mr. Kreais said he thinks the county could have paid for the entire demolition with profits from salvaging the building if it had been done in advance of demolition. The county could have had an auction, he said, and allowed people to bid for pieces and parts as is frequently done with public schools that are to be demolished.
As it was, there wasn't enough time to remove even a fraction of what could have been saved and reused. He attempted to pry up some of the valuable tile, but it crumbled, he said.
County Commissioner Dave Sauber, who opposed demolition on the grounds that the county could not afford it and commissioners did not have a plan for replacing the courthouse, asked his fellow commissioners on more than one occasion about letting the public purchase items from the courthouse.
He said Monday that he doesn't even drive by the courthouse because "it's depressing."
"I've been opposed to this all along," Mr. Sauber said. "I think we should've saved some of this to use in another building, and I think there should have been an option for people to come in and salvage what they wanted. I think this process was hurried up, and I really can't tell you why."
County Commissioner Ben Nutter defended the commissioners' decision.
"The commissioners are not in the salvage/demolition business," he said. "We bid it so that whoever got it had salvage rights to it. The idea is if you want to salvage things from it, you can offset your costs."
He said it's important to remove the courthouse "so we can build a new building and get people to concentrate on the issue at hand."
Excavators continued to chip away at the downtown landmark on Monday — removing the arched entranceway on the Market Street side. Mr. Baumann said it likely would be Thursday before they begin to tear down the clock tower.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.