WAPAKONETA — After a decade of talking, consulting, planning and restoring, a historical county building is finally complete.
Local and state officials opened the Auglaize County Courthouse during a special Auglaize County Rededication ceremony held at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday with approximately 450-500 people in attendance for the ribbon cutting and dedication of the newly renovated building.
State Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, summed it up by saying that history has come alive during his speech, focusing on a history teacher and legislature’s perspective.
“As a coach, I would tell my players to better the best,” Hite said during the ceremony. “Auglaize County today has proof that you can better the best.”
One of the main objections of the renovations of the Auglaize County Courthouse was to preserve as much of the building back to the original as the architects, contractors, construction crews and designers could do.
“As a history teacher, I want to see history come alive,” Hite said of what happened through the preservation and restoration of the Auglaize County Courthouse. “Keep the memories in your heart, that’s what history is about.”
The original courthouse was built in 1894, and Auglaize County Commissioner Doug Spencer said keeping the history of the building intact was very important, along with updating it to current needs.
“We wanted to preserve the history and blend in the needs of technology,” Spencer said as attendees walked through the building during the open house from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday. “By the look on people’s facial expressions, I am very pleased with how the teams worked together for this project.”
Through all the time, effort and dedication of the county officials and the working crews, many people who toured the building were taking each and every detail in.
Teamwork was important when it came to finishing the renovation of the building, as Spencer said all the crews worked together, as this project was all about teamwork and could not be down otherwise.
A team of architects, engineers, technicians, preservationists and artisans worked together to complete this task.
Garmann-Miller & Associates were the architects and engineers, Shell and Meyer Associates was the structural engineer, Peterson Construction was the general contractor, JMC Mechanical was the plumbing contractor, Koester Electric was the electric contractor and Perfection Group, HVAC, was the HVAC contractor.
“It’s awesome,” Spencer said of his first impression of the building. “This building restoration project makes you speechless. I’m just in awe of what’s been done. It’s a beautiful, structurally sound building.”
Spencer was pleased with the turnout of the rededication.
“We actually had no idea what to expect,” Spencer said. “The amount of people we have here is very humbling. People want to come and see the work done. A decade long amount of work has paid off.”
Spencer noted this is a project that belongs to the Auglaize County residents, and the purpose of the project was to turn a 19th century building to a 21st century building.
“This links the past to the present and the craftsmen ability to pay attention to fine detail,” Spencer said.
During his speech, Spencer said he could not be more proud to be a resident of Auglaize County, as he was on Sunday.
“It’s good to have the doors open after a 18-month hiatus with no justice being done in these walls,” Spencer said.
There will be a slow gradual move back into the courthouse, as the municipal court is set to move in this week, common pleas court is set to move in the week of Sept. 24, juvenile, probate, domestic relations and the prosecuting attorney are set to move in the week of Oct. 1 and then the public defender, adult and parole authority and law library are scheduled to move in the week of Oct. 8.
“We want to do all the moves internally, using our staff, this way we can give each office a special day to move in,” Spencer said.
Municipal Judge Gary Herman, who will be moving his office in today and Tuesday, and begin traffic court on Wednesday in the newly renovated building, loves his new set up.
“It’s amazing,” Herman said. “It’s going to take a while to get used to things.”
Herman will practice law in the room in which a Civil War mural (Pickett’s Charge) was uncovered and restored.
The walls of the former law library covered the mural, and the wall was torn down, as the law library moved to the fourth level, and Herman’s courtroom was extended.
“It’s really something that all this was opened up,” Herman said.
“There would be times I was doing traffic court, and I had to tell the family they had to leave. We used every seat available.”
Now that won’t be a problem, as much more seating has been incorporated into each of the three courtrooms.
The new courtrooms include new technology, such as a screen for each jury member, that will display pictures, satellite views along with other amenities with each case being heard.
These monitors will sink down into the tables when not in use.
Two area residents touring the building for the first time said there was only one thing on their minds.
“Wow,” said Wapakoneta Area Economic Development Council Executive Director Greg Myers and Wapakoneta City Council 4th Ward Councilor Chad Doll.
“I don’t think anyone could prepare us for this detail,” Myers said. “The way they’ve dealt with stained glass, and brought back the Victorian colors that had faded over the years, it’s now bright and beautiful.”
Myers noted that this was a day of celebration and remembering.
“We are celebrating our future and honoring our past,” Myers said.
Myers said it is wonderful the way the project was done, as no loans were borrowed.
County officials worked to save money and used grant money to pay for the $8.5 million project.
“It’s magnificent,” Doll said of his first impression of the building. “It’s almost like a time machine. We can really see what it was like in 1894, and I felt like I was going back in time, as they preserved the building to what it was.”
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Cupp gave a justice’s point of view of the newly renovated courthouse.
“What you’ve done is a compliment of you, and is a great model for the state of Ohio,” Cupp noted during the ceremony on Sunday.
The lower level of the building hosts the clerk of courts, public defender, adult probation and security, and includes the secure entrance, which is the only entrance to the building. The first floor includes the juvenile court, domestic relations, juvenile probation and probate, and the second floor consists of the court of common pleas and municipal court. The newly established third floor will host the prosecutor’s office and the fourth floor hosts the law library.
Gary Adams gave a speech during the ceremony to relate a steel worker’s perspective.
“Isn’t it grand?” Adams said.
“What a nice piece of architecture. This was one of my hardest jobs in my career. But my part was easy, because the original people who built this were real craftsmen.”
Ohio County Commissioners Association Executive Director Larry Long said that when ground was broken on the first day of building the original courthouse, approximately 85 people who were working on the job were paid $1.50 a day.
He noted that this project might make a lot of county commissioners in Ohio jealous.
“It’s really the people here who make the difference,” Long said of Auglaize County officials. “It’s amazing to me that they were able to finance the building without borrowing money.”