Renovation Renaissance: 150-Year-Old Courthouse's Rebirth
By Csaba Sukosd | January 10, 2020
After years of planning, and 11 months of renovations worth $4.2 million, the Fulton County Courthouse's transformation to a different time, and world, is complete.
The project's completion was celebrated on Monday by more than 500 people who attended an open house to see the enovated 150-year-old landmark in downtown Wauseon.
"I started practicing in this county in 1980. I was born and raised [here]. If you look at this room, and you see what's here now, compared to what was here before, this is what I saw," said Fulton County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Robinson, the patriarch behind the project.
Prior to taking the bench in 2017, Judge Robinson initiated the inquiries about a remodel for the main courtroom to transport entrants to an Italian cathedral with a stained-glass rotunda, large paintings, and gold-leaf gilding.
"I knew that the people of this county loved this building, and that they'd love this facility once we got it fixed," Judge Robinson said.
Recognizing the historical and economical value of a restoration versus building a new courthouse, the Fulton County commissioners authorized improvements throughout the building. Many were cosmetic with wall resurfacing, painting, and reconstructing mosaic floors. The major facility upgrades include heating and cooling, a new handicapped-accessible elevator, new wiring in many areas, and security improvements.
During his multihour guided tour for waves of attendees, Judge Robinson listed the technological upgrades to his courtroom that he says have surpassed the nearby federal courthouse's infrastructure in Toledo. Among those improvements are fully integrated computer and audio systems that he can control from his bench. The jury box now has pop-up monitors where jurors can view documents, photographs, and video. There's also a touch-screen monitor on which witnesses can highlight specific things, which are seen in real-time by jurors and others.
"We just felt that it's such an iconic structure to Fulton County, to the city of Wauseon that we just needed to preserve it, to save it for future generations," said Jon Rupp, president of the Fulton County Commissioners.
Grants, court revenues, and other non-tax funds limited the use of taxpayer dollars to roughly 10 percent of the project.
Judge Robinson's motive behind the building's conservation was part of a communal legacy to renew the historic landmark. As a proud jurist, it was also about upholding a profession emblemized by the environment.
"It just beckons of something bigger than yourself, and that's always what the attorneys here try to do," said Judge Robinson. "They try to be better than they actually are. They try to do their best work. I think the room adds to that."