Meadville Tribune

Local News

July 16, 2014

Crawford County commissioners set public meetings to get input on new courthouse expansion plan

MEADVILLE — The public gets two opportunities next month to voice its opinion about a proposed $30 million expansion plan for the Crawford County Courthouse.

Crawford County commissioners are scheduling two public meetings — one each in Meadville and Titusville — in August for the latest two-building option.

The first meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11 at 6 p.m. at Active Aging Inc., 1034 Park Ave., Meadville. The second meeting — in Titusville — tentatively is scheduled for Aug. 12 though the location and time weren’t confirmed as of Tuesday.

County commissioners have been reviewing expansion options for the past several years as a way to alleviate overcrowding at the courthouse in downtown Meadville.

An architect’s rendering of the latest expansion proposal — a two-building plan at the present courthouse site on Diamond Park in Meadville — was shown Tuesday afternoon by the county to four of five members of Meadville City Council following a tour of the courthouse. Meadville City Councilman John Battaglia was absent from Tuesday’s tour and presentation. Meadville City Council is scheduled to discuss the county’s proposed expansion plans at City Council’s meeting today.

The last time the county courthouse was expanded and updated was in the mid-1950s.

The new proposed two-building plan, first referenced at the commissioners’ May 13 work session, calls for construction of a new administrative office building as well as expansion of the present courthouse. Construction costs are estimated at $21 million while the total project — including property acquisition, site preparation, furniture, fixtures and equipment, architectural fees and parking — is expected to cost close to $30 million.

The plan calls for demolition of the former sheriff’s house and county jail located behind the present courthouse to make room for a two-story addition to the courthouse. The present courthouse would be renovated to house the county court system and court-related offices such as adult and juvenile probation, domestic relations, district attorney, public defender and sheriff.

Meanwhile, north of the current courthouse and across East Center Street, a three-story building to house administrative offices would be built on a current parking lot. The administrative center would house the county treasurer’s office, commissioners, finance, voter services, human resources, planning and other similar offices.

Both the courthouse addition and administrative center would have room for additional, future expansion on their upper floors.

Additional property east of the courthouse complex site would be acquired for employee parking. The site would have parking for 229 spaces — enough for employee parking and those utilizing the courthouse, according to Dick Fox of Weber Murphy Fox, the county’s architect on the project.

One property fronting on Diamond Park potentially may come down — depending if and how the project moves forward.

The former Tarr Mansion, a large ornate brick building north of the courthouse next to Walnut Street could be removed under the project — if the administrative building is oriented on a north-south axis. If the administrative building is oriented east-west, the Tarr Mansion wouldn’t be purchased, though additional properties east of the administrative building would be needed for parking.

“It will depend on property costs,” Fox said of whether the Tarr Mansion site would be used.

“It doesn’t fit  in very well,” Fox said of the Tarr Mansion, which was built in the 1860s. “It would be difficult and expensive to incorporate it into the physical portion of the (administration) building.”

The Tarr Mansion is located within Meadville’s historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Meadville’s historic district is bounded by Chancery Lane on the east, Walnut Street on the north, Mulberry Street on the west, and Chestnut Street on the south.

According to the National Register of Historic Places website, a property owner may do whatever they want with their property as long as no federal money is being used for the property. Meadville has no historic preservation statutes, according to Gary Johnson, the city’s zoning administrator.

The Tarr Mansion was built in the 1860s by James and Elizabeth Tarr after they became millionaires during the nation’s first oil boom. Oil was discovered in 1861 on the James Tarr farm in what is now Oil Creek State Park near Titusville. After receiving well more than $1 million in royalties, Tarr in 1865 sold his interest in the farm for $2 million in gold. The Tarrs moved to Meadville and built the residence.

Commissioners have said they won’t take any action on a proposed expansion option until after the public meetings are completed in August.

Commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr. said he anticipated a vote on the proposed expansion project at one of the commissioners meetings in September.

Commissioners have been looking at proposed expansion options of the present courthouse in downtown Meadville, instead of going with a now more than two-year-old proposal to split courthouse functions into a separate administrative building downtown and courts-related buildings at the former Talon Inc. site on upper Arch Street. Estimated costs on the courthouse/Talon proposal, first put forth by a county-appointed Citizens Advisory Committee in 2012, rose to between $30.5 and $31.2 million by the summer of 2013.

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