Delaware County employees, public give rave reviews to renovated Historic Courthouse
Delaware County's renovated Historic Courthouse – opened in 1869 at 91 N. Sandusky St. – is a hit with the public, say those who work there.
The building housed the common pleas court until the new courthouse opened in late 2017 at 117 N. Union St., next to the county's Hayes administration building.
The county commissioners approved a design contract for renovating the Historic Courthouse the following March. The roughly $9.5 million project was wrapped up in late 2020, and a number of county departments moved in soon after.
"The response from visitors has been very positive. It is a very beautiful environment in which to work and does tremendous honor to the county’s history," said Jane Hawes, Delaware County’s director of communications; her department is among those that moved into the building.
"When I get the opportunity to tour residents around, it's received very positively with an appreciation that we are preserving the history of the building and putting it back into service," said county Administrator Michael Frommer, whose department also now works in the building.
Another new occupant is county Development Director Bob Lamb, along with his department.
"I have heard nothing but positive things from visitors and the public,” he said. “People really appreciate the care that was taken to highlight and preserve historical features throughout the building.”
A particular point of interest for the public and pride for the county is the redesigned Veterans Memorial in front of the building. Monuments commemorating Delaware County’s war dead were rearranged in a pedestrian-friendly setting and several flagpoles were installed.
"I like a lot of things in the building, but the greatest thing is to have that plaza out front that honors ... all of those residents who made the ultimate sacrifice," Frommer said.
"On a daily basis, I see people, families strolling through the veterans plaza up front and it just feels so appropriate to honor (the fallen) in that manner."
"The renovation of the Veterans Memorial is something the county is very proud of," Lamb said.
The memorial also is appreciated by Brian Galligher, director of the Delaware County Veterans Service office that moved into the Historic Courthouse from a county building at 149 N. Sandusky St.
The memorial was the scene of a Veterans Day ceremony last year, he said, and it gives the Veterans Service Office a location for outdoor events not present at the office's former site.
"We'll do things from time to time on the veterans plaza. Whenever we do events outside, it'll be a great place to do it," he said.
In the Historic Courthouse, the veterans office has a particular distinction, Galligher said. When visitors come in the courthouse's back entrance, he said, one of the first things they notice is the decorated veterans office lobby behind glass at the other end of the hall.
"So we're more seen by residents that may not have known we were here,” he said “Word of mouth is a big way of helping us get the word out to where we're here to help veterans.
"It's much easier to give directions to say, 'Just go to the old courthouse and come in the back,'" Galligher added.
Visitors find the renovated courthouse interesting, he said.
"It is a unique experience, especially with us being able to put the flags out and some of the other decorations and things out here, as far as the historic nature of the building. It kind of adds to the flavor," he said.
Those working in the building say its history and vintage features are a constant presence.
“The opportunity for the county to restore and utilize a county treasure like our original courthouse is something we can all take pride in,” Commissioner Gary Merrell said. “This has been made possible by many people for the ultimate benefit of all those who live and work in the county.”
The commissioners and their staff moved to the building from the former Carnegie Library next door.
The development and communications offices also moved from next door.
"The extra natural lighting and historic features add to the beauty of the workspace. One we all have been enjoying is the view from our second-floor office that allows us a great view of the bustling downtown area," Lamb said.
"It’s a wonderful space and it feels very special to work here,” Hawes said. “The history feels very real, and it’s amazing to think about the 151 years of activities that preceded us here."
Frommer said the Historic Courthouse renovations can accommodate future growth, in case the county has to add employees or expand departments in years to come.
By comparison, the departments that moved in the building came from tighter quarters, he said.
"The new trend in offices is to have much more consolidated spaces. The communication of employees improves when they're not on top of each other," he said. Workers in the renovated courthouse now have to keep doors open and take more steps to maintain such communication, he added.
Lamb said the extra space also has some advantages.
"Our department went from having all four staff members located in one office to being able to have three separate offices to accommodate our business needs," Lamb said. "This accommodates our professional needs, but it has also allowed us to enhance our on-site presence while adhering to social distancing guidelines."
Lamb said the development office also now has storage space close at hand, plus additional whiteboard space and new technology that makes it easier to have meetings in the office.
"Most of the actual offices are comparable in size to before, but we’re more spread out now," Hawes said. "So everyone is definitely getting their steps in each day. We knew that would be an adjustment, though, and talked about it ahead of the move.
‘Previously, most of us could simply walk out of our office and be in the midst of everyone else, whether it was to discuss something work-related or to just have a casual conversation. Now it takes a little effort to stay connected, but we’ve adjusted to that and I feel like the interactions are back to normal now," she said.
County Director of Facilities Jon Melvin said the renovation was designed to achieve "efficiencies, repurposing, and finding the best use of the buildings as we grow.
“The examples are the data processing staff was split in different buildings so we are bringing them together in one space (in the former Carnegie library),” he said. “The new public defender’s office staff took over the commissioners’ office space (in the Carnegie building). The law library will move into the original library portion of the Carnegie library."
Hawes said the move into the building went fairly smoothly.
"We began preparing in the fall, knowing there would be a lot of paper records to move, but that also proved to be an opportunity to move some of them to the county’s records center,” she said. “We were provided with packing boxes, beginning in December. Everyone had to label their boxes with the room to which it was destined in the Historic Courthouse.
“The moving crew came and moved everything on one day – Friday, Jan. 15. Thankfully, we were able to keep working, even with the physical move going on," she said.