Fall ’17 eyed for justice center

Seneca County and Tiffin continue to make strides on the construction of the Joint Justice Center. Construction tentatively is scheduled to begin this summer and to be finished in time for an opening in the fall of 2017.

There were several new developments in the project during the past month, beginning with the project’s construction manager and architect, Gilbane and Silling and Associates, respectively, unveiling a basic organizational concept for the 36,000 square foot project during a meeting of the Joint Justice Center Leadership Task Force March 7.

The concept was concerned less directly with the exterior appearance of the structure – beyond trying to “create an iconic image befitting the courts,” according to the architect’s Powerpoint presentation – and more focused on the space inside. It outlined a four-story facility as envisioned by the project’s exterior design committee months before.

The first floor of the proposed structure features a public entrance with space for security screening on the first floor, as well as offices for the title clerk and legal clerk and central holding cells.

The second floor is devoted to Tiffin’s municipal court, with space for the courtroom, a jury deliberation room, the judge’s office suite and an office for the clerk of courts.

The third and fourth floors are devoted to the common pleas courts, and include courtroom space, hearing rooms, jury deliberation rooms and office suites for the judges.

The structure would need its own heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, architect Tom Potts told the leadership team, noting the HVAC system in the annex building to which the new facility would connect would be insufficient for the additional square footage.

At that point, Gilbane and Silling estimated that the project would cost somewhere between $12.5 and $14.5 million, which was considerably more than the $10 million city and county authorities were hoping to spend on the project.

In response to this development, Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner proposed capping the city’s contribution at $3 million in order to reassure the city that its share of the burden would not increase as work on the project continued.

In the March 8 county commissioners meeting, Board President Holly Stacy said she agreed with Kerschner’s proposal.

“If that proposal can help the city to feel comfortable proceeding with the project, that’s what’s most important here,” she said. “We want it to be a joint justice center project. I don’t want it to be just a county project. We’ve come so far.”

The commissioners voted to create the cap, to which city council agreed during its meeting March 14.

All involved agreed that they wanted a cupola at the top of the building to distinguish it and a storage mezzanine for documents and evidence.

The task force next met March 23, when Potts unveiled several building information models for the facility and Holly McLean of Quandel Construction, the project’s owners’ representative, set Aug. 5 as the tentative date for construction to begin, with an eye towards September of 2017 for the project’s completion.

The county commissioners voted to approve Gilbane and Silling’s design for the project in their March 31 meeting. The city followed suit in its April 4 meeting. Finally, the city’s Architectural Board of Review approved the design in its meeting last Tuesday.

Seneca County Board of Commissioners President Holly Stacy said she was pleased with the recent developments.

“I continue to be really excited about the joint justice center project,” she said. “Being able to have that conceptual design that is being approved by all of the groups, and having the public being able to see that and react to it, is just building the excitement.”

She acknowledged that there is still room for disagreement, but said she thinks that the public is generally excited to see the project moving forward.

“There are people who like this, or don’t like that,” Stacy said. “We’re never going to construct something that every single citizen of Seneca County is going to love, but they like the fact that they know that this is a true sign that we are going to build a joint justice center.”

Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz echoed Stacy’s enthusiasm.

“I’m pleased overall with the project and where we’re at with the joint justice center,” he said. “Overall, I think the deisgn of the building is very nice looking. It will be a nice addition to downtown Tiffin.”

Although Montz said he would have preferred to have seen the entrance to the building on Washington Street, he said he is happy that other aspects of the building can still be viewed from there.

“I’m glad that the tower and other significant architectural features still face Washington Street,” he said.

Construction costs for the project now are estimated at $14,181,115.