What seemed at times as a never-ending back and forth over the past few years has come to a close, as demolition of the 1884 courthouse began in earnest Monday afternoon.
Crews from B&B Wrecking and Excavating Inc. of Cleveland started to tear down the former courthouse, vacated in 2004. Seneca County commissioners approved a contract with the company Nov. 17, due to a lack of funding to support renovation.
"It's a bittersweet day," said Commissioner Jeff Wagner, who voted for demolition of the building. "It's a project we want to get done, that we think is right. I know for a lot of people it does not make for a happy feeling."
"It's unfortunate that the former courthouse was allowed to deteriorate to the point where the taxpayer was unable to afford to take care of it, but I look forward to building a new courthouse which can see us through the next century," said Commissioner Ben Nutter, who also supported the demolition project.
In contrast is Commissioner Dave Sauber, who has had the dissenting vote on matters of having the courthouse removed.
"It's a sad day for Seneca County," he said. "For years to come, we're going to find out how big a mistake it was."
Demolition began at 2 p.m. Monday, as a wrecking ball was lowered into the building through the roof. By 5 p.m., a section of the top floors facing the corner of Washington and Market streets had been removed.
The events of Monday were preceded by years of debate, including failed ballot initiatives to levy a tax for renovation and court cases, as boards of commissioners began efforts to provide adequate space for the court system, which lacks Americans with Disabilities Act compliance in the juvenile and probate courts and has small quarters for the common pleas system.
As recently as last winter, the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group, a private partnership, had a plan in place, and commissioner support, for the building to be restored with the aid of grants and a $5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan fell through April 15 when the board announced state cuts to local government funding and other tax revenues could leave the county without the necessary funding to cover loan payments.
Commissioners said addressing space needs is a priority, and they plan to use the space previously occupied by the former court building for a new structure.
Nutter presented an idea in December to build a new $2.89 million structure, paid for with money saved over multiple years of carry-over funds.
The plan has not been discussed at length by commissioners. Wagner said he supports a similar idea, and likened the saving of funds for the building to the process done for a new juvenile detention center the county is to build. However, Sauber said he does not support the plan as the need for more court space is more imediate than five years in the future.
Brian Baumann, president of B&B, said the demolition may have seemed slow to those watching it progress, but he said it went as planned and is on track for the Feb. 1 deadline. Crews are to be out today beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Baumann said building demolition should be done within three weeks. The company is to haul refuse to Environmental Protection Agency-approved sites, including Sunny Farms Landfill in Fostoria.
Some salvage of materials in the courthouse has been done by the company, as well as a local antiques dealer who was able to take items early Monday. Baumann said the transaction was good for both parties, and is happy some items will be kept in the area.
Also, Seneca County Engineer Mark Zimmerman is to purchase some sandstone from the courthouse to be incorporated in county projects as gravel and in a future bridge project, either as part of the structure or decoration. Zimmerman said the sandstone is to be purchased at a savings to the county.