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Published: Friday, 9/27/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Effort to update courthouse in Defiance slows as issues arise

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bringing the 1870s-era Defiance County Courthouse into the 21st century is proving to be a challenge for county officials. Bringing the 1870s-era Defiance County Courthouse into the 21st century is proving to be a challenge for county officials.
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DEFIANCE — After nearly two hours of deliberations Thursday, the jury’s still out on design plans for retrofitting the 1870s Defiance County Courthouse for the 21st century.

With the primary goal of improving the courthouse space for judges, courthouse staff, lawyers, inmates, and the public, as explained by Eric Ratts, principal architect with DLZ of Columbus, the total project budget is estimated at $4.6 million. DLZ has been developing multiple-floor plan schemes for the county commissioners to address such concerns as courthouse security, technology, and accessibility updates.

During the meeting Thursday with county commissioners, attended by a handful of people, including Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph N. Schmenk, Probate & Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey A. Strausbaugh, and Sheriff David J. Westrick, Mr. Ratts showed proposed layout plans for the basement and three floors of the courthouse.

Plans call for not only interior changes, but exterior renovations as well to restore some of the historical integrity to the building at 221 Clinton St. in downtown Defiance.

Proposed interior changes include upgrades to lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. A new fire protection system, including sprinklers, is being proposed, plus security cameras.

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In an attempt to make the building layout as efficient as possible for the courthouse’s operations — and to include needed private space, such as conference rooms for lawyers and their clients — some additional work on the plans was suggested by county officials. Commissioners will review revised plans during another meeting; no date was set for that session.

Mr. Ratts’ project timetable presented to commissioners showed approval was to take place on Thursday to proceed to the construction document phase with a Dec. 16 date to proceed to the bidding phase with bid opening on Feb. 6. The construction phase is scheduled to take a year to complete.

However, commissioners took no action to approve the plans after issues were raised such as traffic-flow patterns and security on the second and third floors.

Sheriff Westrick said from day one of discussions about the courthouse project that security was the top priority. He said he isn’t out to build a bureaucracy, but the sheriff’s office wouldn’t be able to cover the proposed security for three floors with current staffing arrangements.

Commissioner Thomas Kime said courthouse security is the reason why the courthouse project is being pursued, but he said he doesn’t like the second-floor design just yet, and he said a better plan is needed to try to find a good solution.

Commissioner Otto Nicely said new layouts would be put together for the courthouse’s second and third floors and then another meeting would be held.

Once a target for the wrecking ball, the building, which houses the common pleas and juvenile and probate courts, was in danger of demolition in 2006. Voters rejected a sales-tax increase that year to pay for tearing it down and building new quarters for courts and other county departments.


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