County courthouse renovations considered

By David J. Coehrs -

Fulton County is considering renovations to the second floor of the courthouse.

Fulton County is considering renovations to the second floor of the courthouse.

David J. Coehrs | Swanton Enterprise

The next phase of an ongoing Fulton County Courthouse renovation is being considered and could begin in May if it moves forward.

A proposed upgrade for the building’s second floor would take six months, with a completion date in October, according to County Administrator Vond Hall. The activity would temporarily relocate Common Pleas Court to the County Commissioners boardroom and offices on the second floor of the Administration Building, 152 S. Fulton St., in Wauseon.

Garmann Miller and Associates, a Minster, Ohio, architectural firm, is currently drafting the courthouse renovation plans. Tentatively, Fulton County Commissioners are expected to review and approve the plans in February and award bids for the work in March. The second floor of the 146-year-old courthouse would be scheduled to reopen in early November.

Because the plans are still in a preliminary stage, no official cost estimate has been prepared. The extent of the plans aren’t yet clear, but Hall projects the price at around $2 million, to be financed through the county’s Capital Improvement budget.

Presently, about $680,000 dedicated to the project will not be through taxpayers, but rather paid through court costs and other funds.

“For almost a century and a half, the history of this county has been centered in this building and its court system,” Hall said. “There are certainly no plans to do anything but maintain and use this historic structure that is owned by the county residents, used by the county residents, and maintained for the county residents. This will be a very significant project.”

Commissioner Bill Rufenacht said Common Pleas Court would be the core of the project. He said it’s yet undetermined whether the entire body of work would be completed as a whole or in phases.

“For years, we’ve been doing work on the outside of the facility. We’ve decided that we’re interested in renovating and keeping up the maintenance on it rather than building a new courthouse,” he said. “We felt the people of Fulton County were happy and proud of the courthouse we have, and deemed it a good idea to keep it up to date.”

Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Robinson said the commissioners should be commended for allowing the court to take over their meeting room.

“It’s extraordinary that the commissioners volunteered to move,” he said. He said in terms of the project “they’ve been very judicious in determining what needs to be done, and the long-term effect and the expense involved.”

Judge Robinson said the well where the attorneys meet with clients in back of the courtroom would be expanded, along with available technology the area currently lacks.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping to make the courtroom more functional,” he said. “We have to have reasonable technology so the attorneys can make their cases. Right now, we simply do not have the technology available.”

But retaining the historic value of the courtroom is also a priority, Judge Robinson said. “We do not want to destroy any of the court’s aesthetics. It’s a beautiful structure,” he said.

The courthouse was built between 1870-72 by architects Alexander Voss and H.B. Bensman. The last renovation was clock face repair in 2014 by the Tower Clock Co. of South Charleston, Ohio. Over a 20-year period repairs and renovations have included window and handicapped ramp installations, hand cleaning of the stained glass dome in Common Pleas Court, exterior tuck pointing, trim painting, and relocation of the Clerk of Courts office, among others. The total cost of projects over two decades totals $507,772.

Fulton County is considering renovations to the second floor of the courthouse. County is considering renovations to the second floor of the courthouse. David J. Coehrs | Swanton Enterprise

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.