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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Plans for new courthouse presented

Architecture firm proposes 3-story building for Seneca County

BY LISA SWICKARD
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

TIFFIN -- It might not be wise for Seneca County residents to grow accustomed to the green space that will soon crop up where the 1884 courthouse once stood.

A new courthouse apparently will be constructed on the footprint of its predecessor, and this time, the city may join forces with the county.

James Schmidt, vice president/architect for MKC & Associates -- the firm hired by the Seneca County commissioners in 2008 to do a preliminary design and budget for a new courthouse -- re-presented that plan at the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The firm proposed a three-story, 25,000-square-foot structure.

The former courthouse was about 36,000 square feet, although not all of its interior space was considered usable.

The new structure would house common pleas courtrooms on the first and second floors and the clerk of courts office and title department on the ground floor.

That level also would contain a sallyport for security when transporting prisoners. Mr. Schmidt said the floor plate could be increased or an additional floor could be constructed to include other partners, such as the city.

The price in 2008 for the structure was estimated at $6 million to $6.5 million, or about $250 a square foot. But according to Mr. Schmidt, the downturn in the economy since then would lower the price to about $5 million, or $200 a square foot. That estimate includes furniture, fixtures and equipment, technology, and security, he said.

It seems the question is not whether a courthouse will be built, but what government entities will inhabit it.

During the meeting, the commissioners asked Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz if the city would be interested in housing its municipal court in the new facility. A joint venture would alleviate the court space problems faced by both the city and county.

"We have a lot of interest in this," Mayor Montz replied. "We have to build a new municipal court, so either we have to go into another building or we have to build a new building. We have to do something just like you do. If we can make this work to save both of us money, I think we'd all be fools not to do this."

Mr. Montz and the commissioners agreed to discuss the proposed county/city partnership at a later date.

Mr. Schmidt said the plan makes financial sense. He estimated that a separate 12,000-square-foot building to house the Tiffin Municipal Court and offices would cost between $220-$230 a square foot.

He said adding square footage to a combined county/city courthouse could possibly further decrease the original overall price.

"You get some economy of scale with a bigger building. The larger the building gets, usually you'll see the cost per square foot start to come down," he explained.

"The key is security in these court buildings. That's really expensive. If the city would not have to re-create that in a separate building, there is a lot of savings that I think both [the city and county] could realize."

Mr. Schmidt advised board members to start studying the proposed project now and suggested they commission a feasibility study.

Whether MKC gets the nod to design a new courthouse remains to be seen. Commissioner Jeff Wagner said he would like to see the board continue to save money before the building is officially designed.

Commissioner Ben Nutter added: "If we decide to go with a feasibility study, we'll have to bid it out."



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