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Published: Tuesday, 11/8/2011

Do the right thing

Seneca County Commissioners Ben Nutter and Jeff Wagner insist they care about the county’s future. If that’s true, they will reject proposals to demolish the county courthouse and turn control of the venerable building over to people whose vision exceeds theirs.

The commissioners are expected to open bids today to tear down the 1884 centerpiece of downtown Tiffin. Mr. Nutter says whether the courthouse should be saved is “an issue of economics and good management.” Yet he and Mr. Wagner insist that paying as much as $500,000 to destroy county history is economically preferable to mothballing the structure at no cost to the county.

The other commissioner, Dave Sauber, knows that zero dollars is less than $500,000. If Mr. Nutter and Mr. Wagner believe otherwise, they should not be trusted with county finances.

The Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group has offered to take responsibility for maintenance and insurance costs of the courthouse. Yet the commission majority continues to argue that the sound fiscal course is to spend money now for demolition, then spend more later on a more-expensive replacement for the courthouse.

Seneca County’s current courthouse facilities are inadequate and not handicapped-accessible. They are an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit waiting to happen.

Refurbishing the courthouse is the least expensive solution, one that will bring a return on investment. It will draw visitors interested in historic buildings and provide an anchor for downtown economic development in a way that a new courthouse built on the cheap cannot.

Seneca County residents want to save the courthouse. An award-winning design is waiting to be carried out. Experts in history, architecture, preservation, and development support renovation.

Gov. John Kasich, no one’s idea of a big spender, calls preservation the wise choice. He warns that “an important Ohio landmark will be lost to the ages.” Instead of recognizing an opportunity to back off their unpopular and unsound position, Mr. Wagner and Mr. Nutter are defying the governor, making state aid for this or any other project less likely.

State Rep. Rex Damschroder, Seneca County’s representative in Columbus, says that the decision rests ultimately with the county commissioners, but that preserving the building until the economy improves is a good idea. He cites the 1990s renovation that turned the Statehouse into a source of pride and a destination for visitors.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, whose 5th Congressional District includes Seneca County, did not respond to requests for his position on preserving the courthouse.

The correct fiscal, economic-development, and quality-of-life decision is to preserve Seneca County’s courthouse for future generations of residents. There is still time for Mr. Nutter and Mr. Wagner to do the right thing.



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