It could be a long Christmas break for preservationists trying to save the old Seneca County Courthouse from the wrecking ball, due to begin Jan. 3. The fight is not over for the taxpayer group leading last-ditch efforts, but the Ohio Supreme Court dealt it a major blow this week when it refused to halt demolition on the Tiffin landmark.
So far, that has largely involved asbestos removal from the century-old edifice, something that would have to be done anyway before renovation.
The three-story sandstone building was designed by renowned architect Elijah Myers, also responsible for the Lorain County Courthouse in Elyria, the statehouses of Michigan, Texas and Colorado, and many other courthouses, historic churches and other edifices in Illinois, Michigan and other states. Few have been demolished. The courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places this year.
The Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group has offered that and other facts as part of their case to save the building, which ceased to house county courts in 2004. The group notes that Seneca County commissioners had agreed to a renovation deal several years ago before the Ohio General Assembly cut local funding in the current budget. Commissioners say the county would not be able to repay the loan, but preservationists say they would be no more likely to cover the cost of a new courthouse.
Updated facilities will be necessary if Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Shuff is right. He wrote a letter to commissioners this week complaining of cramped quarters at the courthouse annex, where the court has operated since 2004.
“After hundreds of thousands of dollars in studies, reports, etc., Seneca County remains where it was eight to 10 years ago regarding court facilities,” he said. “It now appears this court and the other common pleas courts must wait another five or more years to have adequate court facilities.”
Shuff said the annex does not comply with Ohio Supreme Court Rules of Superintendence, Jury Use and Management Standard 14 and Court Facility Standards B, C and F.
“This court reminds the commissioners of their legal duty to provide a courthouse adequate for the efficient administration of justice in Seneca County,” he concluded, bolding and underlining the word “courthouse” for emphasis.
Columbus attorney David Carroll, who is leading the taxpayer group, says the common pleas court may be their only hope.
“The common pleas judges have the right to issue orders to the county commissioners with respect to the adequacy of their court facilities,” he told The BladeFriday. “They still have the opportunity to act, and I hope they will because they are the only and best hope, in my opinion.”
The Blade has closely covered the courthouse dispute, filing a public records case against the county commissioners in 2008.
The Supreme Court did not dismiss the case altogether. It is unclear, however, whether it will ever get to hear arguments for saving the courthouse.