Town move finally here

The long wait for a new town hall is over.

Supervisor George Armstrong said the town has received its change of use certificate from the county and will move into the former Skenesborough firehouse next week.

“We got the OK to move in from the county and we plan to make the move on the 11th and 12th (of October),” Armstrong said.

Today’s regularly scheduled board meeting will be held at the N.Y. State Canal Corp. Visitors Center but November’s meeting is expected to be held at the new offices. The town clerk’s office may have to close for a day or two while the offices are being moved. When they clerk’s office reopens, it will be in the firehouse.

Armstrong said the town is discussing the possibility of having a ribbon-cutting ceremony sometime before the November meeting.

The town has been renovating the 10,000-square-foot building for the past few months. The former fire company meeting room has been transformed into offices for the town clerk, supervisor and budget officer. A sliding glass window was installed where customers can seek the services of the town clerk, the room was painted and a set of large windows were weather-proofed.

Officials then created a meeting room in the area adjacent the office, erecting a new wall that divides the area from the rest of the building and installing a set of fire doors. They also added a handicap bathroom and had cooling and fire security systems installed.

The renovations have cost the town $40,077, more that double the $20,000 officials budgeted. But Kathy Jones, budget officer, said the town used $20,000 from its building funds and another $20,000 from its property acquisition fund so it won’t have to dip into its fund balance.

The town has applied for a grant worth up to $400,000 that could be used to help recover some of those costs but officials have yet to hear if they will receive any monies.

The move will conclude a nearly six-year search for a new town hall that began in 2006 after officials discovered the presence of mold in the building that is now home to City Steaks and Seafood.

Instead of trying to abate the problem, officials abruptly moved their offices from the building to the visitors center and have been searching for a permanent home ever since.

Over the past six years, the town has considered several locations including the Whitehall Armory, the former GardenTime building north of the village on Route 4 and the firehouse. Officials even considered a temporary move to the former site of LaFlamme’s on Main Street.

But officials found each of those sites less than perfect. Inspections of the former GardenTime building revealed structural defects in one of the floors and the cost of moving to the Armory was determined to be prohibitive even though the town had the option of purchasing the building for a dollar from the state Office of General Services.

An advisory committee tasked with studying the feasibility of moving into the venerable building that was once home to the National Guard found the town would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to renovate the building and $30,000 to $40,000 per year to maintain and heat the structure.

The move to the firehouse was even questioned because of a “reverter clause” that stated if the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Co. ever dissolved, ownership of the property would revert to the village. The clause was a major sticking point for the town board because it wanted outright ownership of the building, and was part of the impetus for exploring the Armory as a possible location for the offices.

But when the fire company voted to dissolve last fall the village agreed to renounce its right to the property, paving the way for next week’s move.

Officials are hopeful that the building will eventually house both the town and village courts and perhaps the village offices and Whitehall Police Department.

The local courts have already applied for funding that would facilitate such a move. A formal decision on moving the village offices and police department have not been made and neither is expected to happen soon, but for now, Armstrong is just happy the long search for a new town hall is over.

“It will be good. It’s something that will be off our plate and we’ll be able to move forward,” he said.

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