The city of Delaware's Historic Preservation Commission wants Delaware County to take the former Elks building off its demolition list.
The board voted 5-0 on Wednesday, Jan. 22, to deny the county's request for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the vacant Italianate structure at 110 N. Sandusky St. The structure was built in 1880 by Dr. Ralph Hills, one of the founders of Ohio Wesleyan Female College and Oak Grove Cemetery.
David Efland, Delaware's planning and development director, said two tests must be passed to allow demolition within the city's downtown historic district: The structure must not have architectural or historic significance; and demolition must be the only economically viable option for the building.
Efland said the city's staff thought the case for demolition of the Elks building failed both tests.
"In staff's opinion, there's really no question about the historical significance of the structure," he said.
Efland said the building's masonry tower construction also was distinctive and architecturally significant. He added the county's previous plans to build a justice center adjacent to the building, which would have remained standing, showed demolition is not the only solution.
Gus Comstock, Delaware County's economic development director, said county commissioners no longer support a plan to build a new justice center and courthouse at the site. He said the county wanted to use Moving Ohio Forward grant funding from the Ohio Attorney General's Office to demolish the structure after commissioners decided restoring it was not economically viable.
Comstock said the county is seeking to get as much out of its demolition grant funding -- paid for by a settlement between the state and large mortgage lenders after the recent recession -- as possible by the May deadline.
"We're not going to be able to spend (all of) the $500,000 that we were awarded," he said.
A building assessment provided to the county by Cincinnati-based GBBN Architects in August 2013 called the restoration of the building "a very unrealistic project." The firm said renovating the building could cost between $750,000 and $1 million.
Commission member Mark Hatten said county officials should keep the Elks building, even if they no longer want to pursue the plan for a justice center.
"At this point, I don't see a clear and present need for this thing to be gone," he said. "Why not leave it there, and that way all options are still open?"
Delaware County bought the property from Delaware Elks Lodge No. 76 in 2006. The Elks had owned the building since 1915, when the fraternal organization purchased it from an Ohio Wesleyan University fraternity.
Hills, the structure's original owner, was nationally renowned in the mental health field, supervising asylums in Columbus, Dayton and West Virginia in the mid- to late 1880s. Hills also was an inventor who patented a type of fireproofing used in the construction of his Sandusky Street home.
Efland said the county has not exhausted its funding options for restoring and reusing a piece of Delaware history.
"In our opinion, the (demolition) application is at best ... premature and at worst incomplete," he said.
Commission Chairman Roger Koch said he was disappointed by the county's application, which he said was at odds with the city's views on historic preservation.
"The city of Delaware has been one of the most successful, if not the most successful, cities in the state at utilizing its historic downtown for renewed growth in the 21st century," he said.
The county has one month to appeal the commission's decision to Delaware City Council.
Comstock said he thought members of the preservation commission should go before county commissioners to explain why they think the building should be saved.