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Saturday, January 20th, 2007

Towering response to a need

By Timothy Cox
ST. HENRY - Everyone has heard of an old-fashioned barn-raising. Last week in St. Henry, there was a modern-day tower-raising.
Volunteer firefighters from across the southern part of Mercer County gathered last week to raise the 140-foot steel tower just outside the St. Henry Fire Department.
A project once estimated to cost $72,000 or more was pulled off for a grand total of $1,500, thanks to numerous volunteers, donations from local businesses and a little bit of luck.
"We're all volunteers and we can get pretty resourceful once in awhile," Chickasaw Fire Chief Mark Seitz said.
The tower is expected to help improve "dead spots" in radio communications across the southern part of the county and between those departments and Central Dispatch in Celina. The project originally was supposed to be paid for through an anti-terrorism grant the county received. But the project hit a snag last summer and the grant money was reallocated to other projects.
Officials say the bid process was plagued by too many restrictions, a tight timeline and other issues that drove up the cost. County officials also had a couple of legal concerns about the bid process.
County commissioners eventually pulled the plug on the project due to the bid worries and higher-than-expected price quotes. Commissioner Jerry Laffin openly expressed frustration with the project, at one point declaring he was ready to "wash his hands" of the whole mess.
"After it got shot down, I wasn't ready to wash my hands of it," Seitz said. "This is an important project for the southern part of the county."
In the weeks after the project appeared to have been killed, the firefighters persisted. A call from Fort Loramie Fire Chief Jerome Barhorst ended up being the beginning of a massive volunteer effort that has led to the tower's construction.
Barhorst tipped local officials about a used tower no longer needed by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. St. Henry Fire Chief Ron Ontrop said the tower had been lying around for 15 years. The sheriff there agreed to sell it for a mere $1,500 - the amount of money the county had put into the tower for painting. Shelby County's plans eventually changed and the tower was never erected.
The $1,500 spent by the St. Henry Fire Department would be the last public money spent on the project. Fire departments in Montezuma, Southwest Mercer County, Chickasaw, Osgood and Burkettsville plan to reimburse St. Henry for their shares of the project.
Although they had secured a tower, there was still plenty of work to do. The group got a stroke of luck when a firefighter was able to work through a local engineer to identify the manufacturer of the tower and secure construction specifications for it.
Then the volunteer firefighters pounded the pavement to generate community support.
Precision Strip, Minster, donated the use of two semi-trailers to haul the tower from Sidney. B&L Construction, St. Henry, provided forklifts to unload the tower when it arrived locally. Cooper Farms then provided more trucks to haul the tower to Fort Recovery, where J&M Manufacturing provided a complimentary paint job.
St. Henry Tile donated the concrete for the tower's base and B&L Construction poured the cement and did other work on the base. Stachler Concrete provided the steel rebar for the base and Lefeld Welding in Coldwater gave anchoring bolts and steel plates for the tower's setup.
Seitz Electric, of rural Celina, did the electrical wiring to properly ground the tower. Western Ohio True Value in St. Henry donated some hardware and Bruns Building & Development Corp. brought a huge crane for raising the tower.
Schockman Lumber in St. Henry plans to build a fence around the tower.
"Everybody worked together as a team to get this project done," Seitz said.
The tower is not yet operational. Officials still are working through some frequency regulation issues with the Federal Communications Commission, they said.
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