Delaware News

Elks building's supporters: 'Cut it a break'

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Delaware County officials last week continued their push to demolish a historic building in downtown Delaware, telling city officials it stands in the way of the construction of a new, multimillion-dollar courthouse.

The county is appealing a January decision by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, which blocked demolition of the structure at 110 N. Sandusky St. The vacant Italianate building, now known as the Elks building, was built in the late 1800s by Dr. Ralph Hills, one of the founders of Ohio Wesleyan Female College and Oak Grove Cemetery.

The building, purchased by the county in 2006, sits just south of the county's Hayes Administration Building.

Delaware City Council held a fourth reading Monday, July 28, on an ordinance that would reverse the commission's decision, but took no action.

County Commissioner Gary Merrell said the demolition of the Elks building would pave the way for a major reinvestment in the city's downtown. While the city would lose one historic structure, he said a project to locate the new courthouse downtown and add on to the historic courthouse would be a boon to historic preservation.

Merrell said keeping the court system downtown and creating a campus of county offices would help ensure the long-term viability of the old courthouse, the old jail, the Carnegie library and other structures.

"The best way to protect historic buildings in our city is to make sure they are occupied and being used productively," he said.

If the Elks building remains, the county likely would seek an undeveloped site for the new courthouse, possibly outside city limits. The cost of the new courthouse has been projected around $25 million.

David Hejmanowski, administrator of the county's juvenile and probate court, said he was passionate about historic preservation, but had to agree with Merrell.

"An attempt to preserve the Elks building may in fact be significantly counterproductive to the preservation of other buildings within that downtown several-block area," he said.

Hejmanowski said he feared the county would not proceed with a renovation and planned addition to the old courthouse if the new courthouse is not built downtown.

The renovated, historic courthouse has been proposed as the home of juvenile and probate court operations going forward.

"It wouldn't make sense to have half the court operation in one part of town and the other half of the court operation in another part of town," he said.

Councilman Chris Jones had said he fears multiple law offices also would leave downtown Delaware if the courthouse moved.

GBBN Architects, the firm hired by the county to assess the site, painted a bleak picture of the Elks building's current state. GBBN principal Steve Kenat said the structure features "extensive damage" throughout, unusable utilities and trees growing out of the roof.

"I guess the best way to put it is, it doesn't have anything left to give," he said.

Kenat added that, in his opinion, it would not make financial sense to save all -- or even just the facade -- of the building and incorporate it into a new courthouse complex.

The county has estimated renovating the building could cost up to $1 million.

Proponents of the building's restoration point to an earlier concept drawing for a new courthouse built around the Elks building, but county officials have said that more-expensive plan was abandoned years ago.

Marian Vance, a Delaware resident and board president of the nonprofit Preservation Ohio, said the group has added the Elks building to its list of the state's "most-endangered historic sites."

"I'm asking that you consider what (the Elks building) has done for our community and cut it a break," she said. "Let's keep it. Let's just see if we can't work around that building."

Council decided to take the ordinance to a fifth reading after hearing the latest details about the county's development plans.

Council is expected to discuss the county's appeal again at its Aug. 11 meeting.

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