Feb 06, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Gothic Cottage on lower Albany Street may be a beautiful building full of local history, but as a town office its practicality leaves much to be desired. This is why, after nearly six years of study, consideration and discussions, the Cazenovia Town Board recently decided it will move forward on a total reconstruction of the building’s interior to make it a more functional and user-friendly workplace and public meeting area.
The project, for which no cost estimates have yet been developed, would include exterior and surface repairs to the roof, walls and windows, as well as improved office and public meeting areas, records storage, air conditioning and heating, electrical capability and handicapped accessibility.
“As an old building it needs a lot of repair [and] its interior configuration does hinder public participation somewhat,” said Town Councilor Liz Moran, who is coordinating the project for the board and actually began the evaluations of the cottage’s condition during her tenure as town supervisor in 2006. “Our intention is to update it and hopefully make it a much more functional space.”
The Gothic — or Bob-O-Link — Cottage was built in 1847 as a home for Henry Ten Eyck and his wife Elizabeth. Due to the mid-19th century architecture and its original use as a home, most of the cottage’s rooms are small and stylish and therefore not conducive to gatherings of multiple people at one time. For example, during town board meetings, the board sits at a table in the west parlor while audience members sit in folding metal chairs in what was once a hallway or back in the adjoining east parlor. The doorways between the two parlors inhibit sight lines as well as hinder sound from traveling.
The interior configuration not only needs to be improved for public use, but the building also must have handicapped accessibility — probably through the addition of an elevator to the second floor — as well as public restrooms, Moran said.
In addition to the interior room design, there are also numerous structural issues that need to be resolved including a new roof, repaired chimneys, porches, walls and windows. Internal to the building, there is a need for a new heating system, the creation of air conditioning, upgraded electrical capabilities for computer usage, and climate control for records storage.
Town officials have been considering a remodeling of the Gothic Cottage since 2006, when a capital reserve fund — also called the “future of the town office fund” — was established.
In 2009, Ted Bartlett and his colleagues at Crawford & Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners, of Syracuse, worked with Syracuse University architecture students to create a needs assessment and conceptual design report for the building. That report, which is available for public viewing at the town office, called for preservation of the Gothic Cottage’s current interior configuration and the construction of a new addition to the back of the building connected by a period-appropriate walkway. The addition would have housed the clerk’s office, records storage and public meeting space. The plan was estimated to cost about $1 million.
“The 2009 plan was wonderful and full of creative ideas, but we thought it was too big for the budget we would have and the space we would need,” Moran said. The town board felt that the increase in online transactions and data storage, as well as the lack of increase in community population did not encourage the creation of more space.
“We decided smaller was better in this situation,” she said.
By the end of 2012, the town board realized that the Gothic Cottage’s issues “could not be neglected much longer without paying for the consequences,” Moran said.
The town board held numerous meetings concerning the Gothic Cottage and discussed whether to keep the town office in the building and renovate or to move the office completely to a different site. The decision was made to remain at the cottage because it is a good location, it is walkable for community members, and it was the most cost-effective approach.
At the Jan. 14 town board meeting, Moran told the full board that the board members and professional town staff who work in the building had a “consensus decision” to officially recommend that the town renovate the cottage’s interior and improve its infrastructure. The board agreed and approved the expenditure of $1,500 for a project consultant.
The next step is for the town to offer a Request for Proposals from interested architects, but an architect probably will not be selected until the second quarter of the year, Moran said. There will then be public information sessions and the typical state environmental review process to go through.
As for the cost of the project, Moran said there is no estimated cost for the project at this time, but the town already has $600,000 in its capital reserve fund. That will not be enough to cover the project, and a public bond will most likely have to be voted on for the remaining costs, she said.
However, interest rates and construction costs currently are at low levels, so it is a good time to start the project. “We are not anticipating any impact on tax rates from this project,” she said.
In addition to the financial concerns of completing such a major renovation project, there are also concerns regarding historical preservation.
“We are aware that it is a historical building, and we may be able to keep some touches such as the windows and woodwork, but it needs to be functional as a town office,” Moran said.
While the idea of modernizing the cottage while retaining some of its historic character can be done, “the devil is in the details as they say,” said Cazenovia Town Historian Sara Chevako, of the New Woodstock Regional Historical Society. “In general we must recognize that we can’t just put a bubble over historic buildings and keep it all the way it was, however, a lot of people are attracted to Cazenovia because of its historical ambience.”
The Crawford & Stearns 2009 report made a similar suggestion that the historic integrity of the building should be preserved while making it a functional office environment. The report states that the Gothic Cottage is “a distinctive example of American frame Gothic Revival that retains outstanding historic integrity to its original design,” and the original state of both the exterior and interior make the building “nearly unique.” This is why they recommended building an addition onto the back of the historic cottage rather than reconfiguring the interior.
“The existing Gothic Cottage does not provide adequate space for town government functions. In particular, town clerk functions, public access, toilet facilities and public meeting facilities are woefully inadequate or missing entirely,” the report states. “Given the historic importance of the interior spaces, it is not desirable to modify the Gothic Cottage interior plan in a manner that will diminish its historic character. The existing interior plan with spatial restrictions cannot adequately handle the needs of a municipal facility.”
Russell Grills, former Cazenovia town historian and Lorenzo site manager, said he believes that while the Gothic Cottage is “a beautiful piece” and “very picturesque,” it is certainly not as utilitarian or as spacious as the town needs for its office.
“My feeling is that the exterior needs to remain as it is. There’s no question about that,” Grills said. As for the interior, he said it is “certainly possible” to update and upgrade the building in a way that will not cause the cottage any lasting damage. “If [the town board] wants to take that effort, it can be done,” he said.
Chevako said she also is concerned about this issue of preservation versus function in any Gothic Cottage renovation plan.
“While I can definitely appreciate the need to make it current and functional, I worry a little about the procedure they went through [to make this decision],” Chevako said. She knows the cheapest way to renovate the Gothic Cottage will be to simply “gut” the interior and leave an empty shell to refill. “I shudder to think of that possibility,” she said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.