Jan 10, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Should the village board of trustees sell the current village offices on E. Genesee Street, use the profit to renovate the old firehouse on Fennell Street and move the village offices and the village police department into the renewed structure?
After much deliberation and a unanimous agreement to move forward, the village board made this idea public at a village operations meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, and invited architect Andrew Ramsgard to present a preliminary fire station renovation plan to all attendees. The board’s intention is to advise the community of the idea and to seek feedback on the acceptability and feasibility of the board’s plans.
The idea is believed to benefit village residents both economically and practically: economically by selling and putting back on the village tax rolls an expensive property and consolidating village services into one space, and practically by having village hall contained in a more efficient office space with greater and more accessible parking.
No borrowing or public bonding is expected or intended for the project; the sale of the current office building will pay for the renovation of the fire station, the board said.
“We don’t know all the options yet or have all the answers, but in these frugal times this is certainly worthy of consideration,” said Mayor Marty Hubbard. “We’re in an expensive building now with a fully paid for building [owned by the village] sitting empty down the street.”
Trustee Sue Jones, citing the expense and parking aspects of the idea, said, “This proposal deserves a fair chance as presented, and we’re asking everyone to look at it. The average village resident is not well served by village hall being on the lake.”
The future of the old fire station — which was vacated in 2008 with the opening of the new fire hall at the corner of Kane Avenue and W. Genesee Street — has been under consideration by the village board, Police Chief Lloyd Perkins and Director of Municipal Operations Bob Lotkowicz for some time, but the idea was released last Friday, Jan. 6, with a statement to the media and notification of the Jan. 9 operations meeting.
The board’s statement, which was unanimously agreed to by all four trustees and the mayor, said:
“The Village Board believes it is time to address the future use of the old fire station on Fennell Street. After preliminary discussion, the Board is considering the following plan:
1) Renovate the old fire station to house the Village Office and Police Department.
2) Demolish the existing wooden police building in back and create more public parking.
3) Sell the current Village Office on Genesee Street and use the proceeds to pay these costs.
At this time, the Village Board needs to engage an advisor to conceptually develop such plan for public consideration.”
The Jan. 9 operations meeting was attended by village officials and a few village residents, and lasted more than two hours.
Ramsgard, the principal architect of Ramsgard Architectural Design, P.C., in Skaneateles, who was asked by the board to be its principal advisor on the project, gave a presentation in which he reviewed the 2008 evaluation of the Fennell Street fire station, done by V.I.P Structures of Syracuse, gave his opinions on those conclusions and explained his tentative ideas for the renovation possibilities.
The old fire station, which was built in 1963, is “built very well” and is “structurally adequate,” Ramsgard said. It was built during the Cold War era with thick, heavy, concrete T-beams for heavy usage as a fire station. “This building was built to last,” he said.
There has been some settling and cracking in the non-load-bearing walls, which are of “no concern;” there is some leaking in the roof, no insulation in the walls currently and outdated, single-paned windows, all of which can be easily fixed, Ramsgard said. There is some asbestos in the building, but none of it is in poor or dangerous condition and the amount is “far less” than he usually sees in houses, he said.
“This is a perfectly good, usable, heavy-duty building you have an opportunity to take advantage of,” Ramsgard concluded about the general condition of the old fire station.
The potential renovation and reuse of the old Fennell Street fire station would be a village endeavor and not a joint action or occupancy with the town, said both Village Mayor Marty Hubbard and Town Supervisor Terri Roney.
“Whatever happens down the road will be an independent action,” Hubbard said. “It is imperative that we run an independent path.”
“As a resident I think it’s a great idea, but as supervisor the town has no part in this,” Roney said.
Hubbard said the village and town have very distinct differences in their municipal services, and a co-occupancy is not necessarily the best idea. For example, the village runs the police and the town uses the state troopers; the village runs the wastewater treatment plant and the town runs the transfer station; the village uses municipal electric and the town uses NYSEG.
Stage one of any project would be a “simple and frugal” interior office renovation, Ramsgard said. His preliminary plans showed village offices in about 3,000 square-feet of space, the police department in about 3,000 square feet of space, with about 1,300 square feet of space left over for whatever “future access” the village wanted. The building currently is a single-story structure.
The village offices would be consolidated into one large and divided space, with offices for the mayor, the clerk, the building and codes officials and village records. The current village hall is spread over two floors of tight space in a three-story building.
The renovation proposal included handicapped-accessible, public restrooms off the main hallway, with security doors, windows and/or separators leading to village offices. This would enable the building and restrooms to be open to the public during hours when the village offices are closed.
The police department section of the renovation would include basic offices, locker rooms, restrooms, holding cell and a records room.
The current police department building, which sits behind the Fennell Street fire station and measures about 4,000 square feet, is more space than the department needs and is therefore not an efficient use of space, said police chief Perkins. Half of the current police department building previously housed SAVES, which moved into its own building a few years ago.
Moving the police into the renovated building and tearing down the current department would also create about 60 extra parking spaces in the Fennell Street lot, Perkins said.
Residents at the public meeting on the fire station project voiced opinions both for and against the idea.
Holly Gregg, a member of Citizens to Protect the Character of Skaneateles, was interested in the possible renovation project, seeing it as an opportunity for the village to “take the lead” in redeveloping the Fennell Street corridor.
“This could be a catalyst,” Gregg said. “This could be one opportunity to make a difference on Fennell Street.”
Former trustee and current member of the municipal board Alan Dolmatch disagreed with the proposal, both at the meeting and in a follow-up email to village officials.
Dolmatch objected to what he called “a problematic site and an imprudently chosen building.” He felt the Fennell streetscape would hardly benefit from the idea because the old fire station is so far back from the street, and other real estate is certain to become available that would be more appropriate for village offices.
He also felt the proposed financial advantage to taxpayers by putting the current village offices back on the tax rolls was a specious benefit. His own calculations (which the Press did not verify) found the average village resident would see only $5.37 in annual tax relief from the plan.
“Right now, the cart of putting the village office building back on the rent rolls is leading the horse of good design and village vitality,” Dolmatch stated.
Stage two of the proposed renovation project would be “overframing” the exterior with gable and hip roofs and wooden trestles, removing the truck bay overhead doors and replacing them with French doors, and changes of that nature, Ramsgard said.
“This is a wide-open canvas of a building, which makes it very easy to work with,” Ramsgard said of both the interior and exterior proposals.
Stage three of the renovation project would be improving and beautifying the front section of the lot, which currently is used for public and U.S. Postal service parking. The general vision is to enhance the parking with more and better-designated spots, include grass and benches for beautification and generally improve the lot frontage to enhance the Fennell Street corridor.
Since the project is only in the discussion and planning stages, any financial numbers are tentative, Hubbard said.
The current village hall building has an assessed value of around $660,000, while the stage one interior renovations of the old fire station are estimated to cost around $300,000.
The village officials and Ramsgard all agreed at the meeting that the sale of the one building would more than pay for the renovations of the other.
“The only question we’ll have is how much money is left over [from the sale],” Hubbard said.
The board will consult with individuals with experience in selling municipal buildings to ensure a proper sales procedure, Hubbard said, and the ultimate sale will most likely occur through use of sealed bids.
This financial outlook goes directly to the board’s intention to use no public bonding or financial borrowing to finance the project.
Because the project will be paid for without bonding or borrowing, no public vote or referendum is required to undertake the project. “But of course this is all open to the public and we want public input, which is why we called this meeting,” Hubbard said.
The village board members said they are eager and interested to receive public comments on the Fennell Street fire station proposal, and ask residents to contact them either personally or through the village. The village offices can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.