WAUSEON – Participants of a collaboration between Fulton County and the Ohio Department of Transportation braved a chilly Monday to break ground for an estimated $2 million complex they’ll share on State Route 108 north of Wauseon.
In fact, four groundbreakings took place, performed separately by the county’s political faction, Historical Society trustees, the project’s contractors, and members of the county Visitors Bureau.
The cooperative effort between the county and ODOT will include a 21,000 square-foot transportation garage and a 13,000 square-foot building housing a county emergency operations center, a law enforcement substation, and a visitors center.
That space will also include a new 4,000 square-foot home for the Fulton County Historical Museum, which has been located at 229 Monroe St. in Wauseon since 1969. The expanded area will allow for such features as movable walls, a museum store, public research archives, and storage space.
The complex will be located on approximately 16 acres across from the Fulton County Fairgrounds, adjacent to a county-owned facility used by the Ohio State University Extension and the Soil and Water Conservation District. The site offers ideal proximity to traffic on the Ohio Turnpike and at the fairgrounds.
Construction is expected to last about 10 months, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony taking place around December 2016. The cost share project will be evenly financed between the county and Ohio’s capital budget.
State Representative Barbara Sears (R-Monclova Township), who co-sponsored the project with Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green), said the concept is unique in Ohio, and will serve as a model for sharing services and saving money.
“Leave it to northwest Ohio to think of a way to do something that’s logical, that’s conservative, that makes sense, that’s pragmatic by bringing groups of folks together and putting them sited on one piece of property so there’s interaction, so there’s multiple use, so the property is actually being utilized to its fullest extent. This doesn’t happen anywhere around the state,” she said.
Gardner said the shared complex just makes sense, adding, “It saves tax dollars, and it allows for the kind of collaboration that citizens and taxpayers expect.”
It’s likely to provide the county with increased tourism dollars and attention, “so we hope there’s additional value there, too,” he said.
According to Hiram Crabtree, ODOT’s District 2 business administrator, the department’s new transportation garage is eliciting the same level of excitement generated by the 1954 grand opening of the present 7,200 square-foot garage. But the department’s collaboration with Fulton County on the current project raises the bar, he said.
“We will forever change the way we conduct business, stretching the value of the Ohio taxpayer dollar, and basically increasing the economic efficiency of state government and local government working together,” Crabtree said.
County Commissioner Bill Rufenacht said with the new garage and historical museum so prominently spotlighted it’s easy to overlook the significance of the emergency operations center planned for the complex.
“When an emergency hits at this point in time, we’re very limited in our building capacity in that area. So this is going to be a huge part of the whole project,” he said. The center will house the directors of both the county’s Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Medical Services.
It will also benefit the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the county sheriff’s office with substations, giving law enforcement a central presence in the area.
Toni Schindler, the commissioners’ director of marketing, told Monday’s gathering the ODOT-county partnership means cost savings, efficiency, and tourism. She said the complex is an ideal location for potential investors “to get a feel for our Fulton County culture…and the quality of life we have here.”
The collaborative effort between ODOT and county services can be a vision for the entire state, she said.
“These synergies working together will create what we hope is a poster child shared services use project concept for all Ohioans to enjoy, learn, and grow by,” Schindler said.
Sears said people like the idea of synergy, the convenience of of developing interdepartmental relationships and the concentration of countywide services in one area “so they can work more effectively, more efficiently. I think this is really unique, and will serve as a model around the state on how we can actually bring real shared services to the State of Ohio – real shared opportunity for savings within the state in a way that makes logical sense.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.