$8.5 million proposal would move courts into one building

TIFFIN — A “one-stop shop” would be created for Seneca County Common Pleas Court and Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court if a proposed $8.5 million combined court building is constructed where the former county courthouse was located in downtown Tiffin.
The results of a feasibility study were presented Wednesday by Joe Brink and John Kornbluh, architects with Burgess and Niple, Columbus. The company, along with Public Performance Partners, a Columbus consulting firm, completed the study with a $100,000 state grant.
Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said the project should move ahead. He cited the county and city working together, the cost savings, and convenience created by having all the courts together.
The proposed four-story, 36,000-square-foot building would fit on the existing property, Kornbluh said. It would be connected to the county annex building, and would feature one entrance, one drop-off location for prisoners and be handicapped accessible.
Compliance with federal handicapped-accessible regulations was another point. The county’s probate/juvenile court is located in a former public library building that does not meet those requirements.
Construction of a combined court building would allow probate/juvenile court to move into the county annex building, used by common pleas courts now.
The annex building was designed for probate/juvenile court, but its use changed with demolition of the 1884 courthouse in 2012.
The North Central Ohio Council of Governments board, which secured the study grant, unanimously approved the plan following the presentation Wednesday.
Next, the study will be presented to Tiffin City Council and the county commissioners.
The study looked at court space requirements if separate buildings were constructed for common pleas and municipal courts, and if all the courts were located in one building. Separate buildings would require about 39,000 square feet. A combined building would require about 36,000 square feet. The smaller size is from shared spaces, including one entry point, fewer restrooms and one drop-off “sally port” for prisoners being transported to court.
Two separate buildings would cost about $9.3 million to construct, nearly $850,000 more than a combined building, according to the study.
After the meeting, Montz said the building would “revitalize and energize downtown Tiffin.”
He said the judges, county and city have about $3.3 million set aside for the project, which will reduce the financed amount. There would also be about $181,000 operational cost savings annually.
If approved, construction could begin in 2016, Montz said.
Brink said the annex building does not comply with state regulations for common pleas courts. There is no inside secure drop-off location, one common hallway causes the public and inmates to converge, the jury area is inadequate, and court space is smaller than state guidelines, he said.
Likewise, Tiffin-Fostoria Municipal Court, located in the municipal building on East Market Street, has multiple entrances and is about 5,000 square feet smaller than recommended.
Kornbluh said three sites were reviewed for the proposed construction, but the former courthouse square location was the best. It is in the center of downtown, has nearby parking, the annex building is already there, and the location provides good visibility for the building.
Other sites considered were a parking lot at the corner of Monroe and Madison streets, and the former East Junior High School at the corner of Jefferson and Market streets.
Maurer: 419-427-8420
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