Town Hall move stalled again

By Bill Toscano

Last week’s Town Board meeting left the question of where the town offices will move to unanswered – yet again.

With some of those attending expecting a definitive answer on the move, board members instead said there are far too many questions regarding the potential sites to make a decision now.

There remains no date for the town to move from the New York State Canal Corp.’s Visitors Center, and the impression left by the Feb. 9 board meeting is that the process has barely progressed in the last year.

The town moved into visitors’ center without permission in 2006, and Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon said at the meeting that the offices will remain there until the town does a more in-depth study of the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company across the street from the visitors’ center and the Route 4 site that once housed Garden Time.

“I am in no hurry to get out of here right now,” said Gordon, who has been supervisor since January 2010 and had said that moving the offices would be a priority. “I want to explore this. I don’t want to rush into anything.”

The board voted, 3-2, in November to move to Skenesborough, but delayed that because of concerns over what would happen if the town ever moved from the building.

Last month, Gordon began re-investigating the possibility of buying the former Garden Time building, which is located just outside the village and moving the town office there. Building owner Fred Troelstra has lowered the price to $215,000 and has also offered to lease the facility to the town for $500 a month as well..

Gordon hired engineer Dan Martin to examine the Garden Time building, and Martin’s report raised some issues. The board decided to have Martin inspect the Skenesborough site as well.

Despite all the discussion, there are no specific plans for how the town will use the space in either building. Board members Richard LaChapelle and David Hollister, who voted against the move to Skenesborough, have repeatedly asked for plans and cost estimates.

“I want to know what it’s going to cost,” LaChapelle said. “The engineer can give us an estimate for the job, but we have to know what the job is in order for him to give an estimate.”

Village and town together?

A move to Garden Time would thwart plans by Mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti to have the Skenesborough building house both the town and village offices as a possible prelude to consolidation of the two governments. Putorti, who said he has two inquiries into buying the current village hall, was at the meeting to explain other issues involving the potential sale.

The village board has yet to consider moving the village offices. Putorti has had the village office building at the corner of North Williams and Saunders streets appraised for $92,000. “Two people have made proposals on it,” Putorti, adding that he feels having the two municipalities in the same building would be a good idea.  “I would love to see us together.”

Putorti attended the town board meeting to present a deed that the village attorney has drawn up, specifying that if the town purchased the Skenesborough site, it would own the site but must use it for government purposes.

There was some confusion, as Putorti explained that the village does not own the site, but rather the fire company. “The property is in Skenesborough’s name.” Putorti said. Gordon had believed the village owned the land. In addition, as presented, the deed would allow the town to sell the building if the village board approved.

Many opinions offered

Jim Aiken, one of the founders of the Skenesborough department and its current treasurer, said he felt the town should honor its commitment to move to Skenesborough.

The way the deal is structured, the town would pay $20,000 per year to a maximum of $150,000 for the Skenesborough building. The department would still use the truck bays for its equipment. If the town and village agree to establish a fire district, the town would take control of the building and would not have to pay the yearly amount.

Resident Tony Scrimo pointed out that moving to the fire station would not take a building off the town tax rolls, as moving to Garden Time would.

Troelstra said he came to the meeting with the understanding that the board would be buying his building, based on a discussion he had with Hollister and Gordon.

“I have been involved in this process for 2½ years, and I have been through two boards with this,” he said. “I do not think it’s the town’s position to save the fire company.

“Do I have a vested interested in this? Yes, I have a parcel to move,” he added. “But a deed will get conveyed, and it’s a free deed. We bought it; we own it.”

Concerns about the floor

Gordon said the engineer’s inspection of the Garden Time building indicated there might have to be some work done on it, including the addition of a support beam for the floor, in order for the town’s court rooms and offices to be there.

There is also a crack in the wall at the east of the building, which would be sealed, and there was evidence of groundwater in the basement, possibly because of storm drainage. Those were not major concerns.

One of the things Gordon said he needs to know is whether the building will have to conform to the 2002 building code or the present code.

He said he will have to check with the county building official to see whether it would need an elevator. He also said the sanitary system may need to be upgraded and wondered whether it could be tied into the village sewage system.

Resident Charlie Bennett asked if the town considered the former Troy Shirt factory on Mountain Street as a possibility, and Hollister said he felt that would be even more expensive. Board members have also said they will not pursue the former Whitehall Armory because of concerns over heating and possible roof replacement.

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