Delaware News

County to city: Let us demolish Elks building

City commission voted to preserve 1880 structure, but county likes site for courthouse

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THOMAS GALLICK/THISWEEKNEWS
The Elks building, constructed in 1880, is seen in a photo taken last winter. Delaware County is considering the site for a new courthouse.
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Delaware County officials asked Delaware City Council last week for permission to demolish a historic downtown building.

County Administrator Tim Hansley asked council at its June 9 meeting to overturn a decision by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, which voted 5-0 in January to prevent demolition of a property known as the Elks building. County officials want to raze the vacant Italianate structure at 110 N. Sandusky St., which was built in 1880 by Dr. Ralph Hills, one of the founders of Ohio Wesleyan Female College and Oak Grove Cemetery.

Hansley said the site -- just south of the county's Rutherford Hayes Administration Building -- could be the future home of a new county courthouse. He said if council denies permission for the demolition, the site will be out as a potential home for the project.

"We would then pursue a greenfield site," he said.

Hansley said that did not necessarily mean the courthouse would be built outside the city of Delaware -- just that it wouldn't be at the Elks building site.

Delaware City Manager Tom Homan said the county's plan to demolish the Elks building and construct a new courthouse represented a significant investment in the city's downtown. He said he would not like to take a chance on whether the county would build its new courthouse outside city limits.

"What they're saying is that, obviously, they have other options," he said. "I don't think it's worth trying to determine their resolve on that."

Previous plans commissioned by the county showed a new county facility built around the Elks building. Hansley said county officials have since dropped that idea after consultants told them it would be economically infeasible.

Councilman Andrew Brush asked Hansley if county commissioners would make a pledge to use the Elks site for a new courthouse if the demolition was approved.

"The answer to that is absolutely yes, they would," Hansley said.

Brush also asked if the county would be willing to add the old courthouse, old jail and courthouse annex to the city's downtown historic district. That would give the city some oversight of construction and renovation projects involving those buildings.

Hansley said he did not think commissioners would object to that proposal.

David Efland, Delaware's planning and community development director, said council needed to put the building to a two-part test before making a decision. The council could allow demolition if the building is not historic or if rehabilitation of the property is economically infeasible.

Historic Preservation Commission members cited past plans showing a new courthouse that was built around the Elks building as evidence that it could be saved. Efland said no one has yet disputed the building's historic value.

Homan said council needs to consider more than the Elks building's history when making its decision on the appeal.

"This is obviously ... indisputably a historic building," he said. "The operative (idea) here, though, is the financial feasibility of its restoration."

Homan said he and other city officials toured the building, which he described as "severely deteriorated," a few months ago.

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. He also was an inventor who patented a type of fireproofing used in the construction of his Sandusky Street home.

Council is expected to discuss the county's appeal again at its June 23 meeting.

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