Analysis urges former school for justice center
January 29, 2015
By Brittany Cook - Staff Writer (firstname.lastname@example.org) , The Advertiser-Tribune
David Zak presented a study stating renovation of the East Tower would be the most feasible location for a joint justice center during a Tiffin City Council committee of the whole meeting at Tiffin Middle School Wednesday.
The privately funded study considered whether the East Tower would be viable for the center and it concluded the city and Seneca County should consider renovation of the existing 22,000 square feet and adding 32,000 square feet in a three-story addition for a total of $11.542 million.
Tax credits could be available to cut costs up to $1.54 million for a $10 million structure.
In 2011, renovation of the 1884 Courthouse was estimated at about $8 million. Financing options included a $5 million loan at 3.75 percent interest from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Development, a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Development and funding totaling $850,000 from county courts and $1.65 million promised through private donations in a capital campaign.
The courthouse was razed in 2012.
Zak, Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. president and CEO, outlined the most recent studies in which the courthouse has been considered, including the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan. That plan stresses the importance of a civic district and a town green. The plan envisioned a restored courthouse with green space located where the RTA building stands.
A feasibility study conducted by Burgess and Niple in March 2014 suggested a four-story, 36,000-square-foot facility shared by Seneca County and Tiffin would cost about $8.5 million. This facility would be in addition to the existing 18,000-square-foot annex building.
Study results stated a shared justice center would save Seneca County and Tiffin about $850,000 in construction costs total and about $180,000 a year in operating costs.
The study can be viewed at ncorcog.org.
Zak also said in March 2014, National Machinery LLC Chairman and CEO Andrew H. Kalnow purchased the East Tower and unveiled a plan to renovate the building and donate it to serve as a joint justice center.
Soon after, the most recent study was commissioned to consider whether the East Tower was a viable option for the proposed joint justice center.
Zak said the study also gave recommendations on moving forward and alternative uses for the building.
East Tower, built in 1893, was the original Columbian High School and then was East Junior High School.
The study stated the East Tower was solid structurally and in good condition, although it needs a new roof, new heating and ventilation systems and electrical and plumbing improvements.
Converting it to a justice center would be easy, given its layout and corridors, the study stated. Land also is available for an addition to the building.
The study recommended the city and county pursue a joint justice center at that site, stating repurposing the site provides the best opportunity for efficient function. It meets current and future needs and considers the preservation of a historical building, the study stated.
A possible alternative use would be as an office building. The study stated a 32,400-square-foot multi-tenant office development would be the most efficient alternative, based on a survey of market demand. The study did not consider renovation of the fourth floor if East Tower were to be used as an office building, Zak said.
All costs are estimated, he said. The study does not include final design recommendations or true construction costs. Square footage also is estimated.
It does consider the same factors as the Burgess and Niple study, he said.
Zak said operational savings would be equal or greater than savings outlined in the Burgess and Niple study.
He also said potential tax credits would have to be considered.
Acquisition costs also are not included in the study.
The study can be read at senecasuccess.com.
Zak also outlined part of the addition to the downtown strategic growth and development plan. He said the incomplete study, funded by the city in October and independently managed by SIEDC, evaluated East Tower and Courthouse Square from a planning perspective.
This section of the study also names East Tower to be the best choice economically and from a downtown planning standpoint, Zak said.
The study states that having a central green space has economic benefits, including attracting investment, increasing property values and promoting business growth.
While both locations have benefits, Zak said locating a joint justice center in East Tower would preserve the historic building and the green space.
This information also is available at senecasuccess.com. The full study is to be revealed at a later date.
Zak said, in his opinion, location of the center is key and either location would cause development.
He said the difference lies with East Tower construction and the domino effect. Renovating East Tower would prompt development in the vicinity. Locating the center in the green space does not allow for outward growth, he said.
Citing quality of life issues, he said people considering moving to Tiffin would consider the green space as a positive factor.
"Success breeds success," he said. "I think it's clear what we have in this community is an upward spiral."
Craig Gossman with Gossman Group, who has worked on the strategic plan for the city, said the benefits of renovating the East Tower lie within the historic section. Courtrooms could be built in an addition, leaving the historic section to serve as offices and the entrance into courtrooms.
He said new buildings often pass over "grand entrances" when focusing on costs and space.
"In this case, you get the benefit of this grand old space in the historic East Tower," he said.
Zak said the SIEDC board is to make a recommendation at a later date.
Council members agreed all entities need time to consider the study, but expressed their support of utilizing the East Tower as long as it is cost effective.
Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said several issues were paramount in the decision: The center must be a joint-use facility and must be located downtown. He also said the green space was important because downtown success it driven by it.
He said he hoped the estimated $1.5 million gap between construction of a new courthouse and renovation of the East Tower could be overcome.
"As long as we're able to reduce that cost and shrink that gap down ... the clear decision would be to locate at an East Tower facility," he said.
He also said all entities would have to consider what was best for Tiffin.
Seneca County Commissioner Fred Zoeller said added costs would be the main consideration for location of a court facility.
He also said ownership of the building is a consideration. He said he only would support the East Tower location if it is government-owned.
Zoeller also said additional meetings are to be needed to discuss the issue. He suggested that commissioners again postpone decisions on whether the justice center would be shared and where it would be located.
Council and Seneca County commissioners are to look over all studies completed on the feasibility of a joint justice center and set up a time for public comment.