It’s natural for a community to want to preserve its heritage. Often, this is done by restoring and preserving buildings where history took place or when the architecture embodies an era of time.
There are 88 county seats in Ohio. Each one became the county seat when the county courthouse was located there. Are courthouses automatically historic because they are courthouses? After all, the entire judicial history of the county takes place in county courthouses. Vital records have often been housed there, too. Should every courthouse be preserved? What if a new courthouse is built because the old is obsolete? Should the old be kept, anyway, even if no one wishes to occupy it when everything’s moved into the new court house? What if the cost of preservation is too costly for county taxpayers, and it’s cheaper to raze the old courthouse and build an new one rather than try to bring the old one up to code?
That debate has been raging in Tiffin, Ohio, for some time now. Tiffin is the county seat of Seneca County. The old courthouse is not only inadequate, but it’s also structurally defective. Even if not torn down, it would eventually fall into ruin. The cost for making it structurally sound and renovating it to make it adequate is cost prohibitive. A small number of Tiffin residents have been crusading to save the old courthouse anyway. The Seneca County Commissioners voted to raze the old courthouse and build anew. Then elections came, and one County Commissioner was replaced with a new County Commissioner. Even with the change, the Seneca County Commissioners still voted to raze the old and build a replacement. The Tiffin residents concerned with conservation have tried raising funds to save the old courthouse, but coming up with the huge amount of money needed just isn’t in the cards. So with the money they raised, they mounted a petition drive to put the preservation of the courthouse on the countywide ballot during the past primary election. County residents sided with the Seneca County Commissioners by an overwhelming margin. The Tiffin preservationists really took a thumping. The preservationists also used their funds for legal fees, and took the matter to court.
So far, the Tiffin preservationists haven’t found anyone to rule in their favor, . . . not the commissioners, not the courts, and not the voters. Now they’re petitioning the Ohio Supreme Court (story from the Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune) in hopes of getting a ruling in their favor.
Does the historical value of a courthouse trump cost/benefit analysis? If so, does it also trump democracy itself?