BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Orangetown officials are beginning to feel a little cramped in their dusky, old town hall.
Board members have questioned whether the more than half-century old Town Hall building still meets the town’s needs, or if perhaps it’s time for renovation or replacement of the building. At the Town Board’s last public meeting April 12, the board voted unanimously to solicit requests for proposals (RFPs) from planners, builders and architects to advise the board on how to approach studying the matter.
Orangetown’s current Town Hall in Orangeburg, its first and only such edifice in the town’s three-plus centuries of existence, was built in 1960 and opened April 9 of the following spring. Its creation was the brainchild of then Republican Supervisor Clarence B. Noyes and an all-GOP town council consisting of five men well over 60, derisively termed the “five tired old Men” by their perennially unsuccessful Democratic challengers.
Until the 1950s none of Rockland County’s five townships had a “Town Hall” as such.
Each town rented private offices in commercial buildings in which elected and appointed officials and their staffs, most working part-time, carried out official town business.
The first two towns to actually construct a physical town hall were Clarkstown and Ramapo, both in the late 1950s. Clarkstown built a two-story structure on Congers Road and Maple Avenue in New City, hidden behind the old Elms Hotel, while Ramapo built a single-story facility in Route 59 in then-desolate Airmont, where it was surrounded by vacant farmland.
Not to be outdone, Orangetown followed suit three or four years later with its own initial town hall, a modernistic two-story steel and masonry building on Orangeburg Road at Dutch Hill Road in Orangeburg, on former farmland that had been vacated by the US Army when it closed Camp Shanks, and sold the property to Orangetown.
Until then Orangetown rented offices for its supervisor and council in a private office building on North Main Street in Nyack, over a bicycle shop, along with a public meeting room for council meetings upstairs. The tax receiver’s office was a room at the Couch’s Corner building on South Broadway. Police were housed in rented space in a commercial building in downtown Sparkill, while the two town justice’s offices and courts were in that same Sparkill building and in the Pearl River American Legion Hall. The town itself owned no structure, and for decades saw no need to do so.
The new “Hall” functioned inadequately for years, with departments and employees and the public tripping over each other attempting to accomplish the town’s frantic workload.
The first real relief didn’t come until the 1990s, however, when the town decided they had to end the space crunch by building a brand new police headquarters and court complex, as an annex to the rear of the original town hall.
Unlike other towns, Orangetown continues to have only a single courtroom and justice office, while Clarkstown has four and other towns fall in between.
The town attorney was given expanded space in the basement of the original building, which it shared at first with the town archives, a huge room stuffed with file cabinets and cardboard trans files.
Like Orangetown, Ramapo and Clarkstown have added to their original 1960s town halls several times. And like Orangetown, both towns maintain several large departments of town government in separate locations, particularly highway and parks and recreation, which have never been co-housed with other town offices.
Ramapo built a new police station as an addition to town hall, while Clarkstown located theirs next door. Parks offices in both towns are located at large parks in each town.
In Haverstraw, a large town hall was built in the 1970s off Route 202 in Garnerville, containing most town offices but with a separate police station and court complex a mile away.
Stony Point houses its executive offices in the former Sengstacken mansion on Main Street in downtown Stony Point, while most other town offices and meeting rooms are located in or near Rho Cottage at the former Letchworth Village state psychiatric center complex in Thiells, which the town purchased from the state over a decade ago. Haverstraw Town purchased the other half of the Letchworth campus at the same time but does not use it for town offices. It is attempting to market most of its portion of the site commercially. The Sengstacken mansion recently qualified for $250,000 in renovation grant money from the state.
Stewart and other members of the Orangetown Town Board promised residents at the meeting last week that they would keep them appraised on progress on the town hall study.
They also noted that since most potential concepts to construct a new town hall, at its currently location or elsewhere, would require public financing, it would also probably be subject to a permissive referendum on allowing the town to raise that money and use it for the new construction.
A negative vote by the resident taxpayers would doom such a project, they noted, much as it did a decade ago when the town attempted to construct a public swimming complex at the RPC campus, but the voters rejected the plan in a strong negative vote. Orangetown remains the only town in Rockland County with no public swimming pool of its own.