ORANGETOWN EXPLORES NEW TOWN HALL: Existing chamber expansion and RPC sites considered

BY ROBERT KNIGHT
CITY EDITOR
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

Orangetown continued studying options for expanding its municipal office space Tuesday, concentrating on eight proposals for a new town hall presented by the town’s consulting architects and planners, The Musial Group.

The informational session prior to a workshop meeting of the council occupied most of the two-hour meeting, held in the board room of the existing Town Hall at 26 Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg.

Orangetown outgrew that facility years ago, and has been struggling with how to expand municipal office space at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayers of the township, who would fund the project through their real property taxes each fall.

Musial, the firm hired to guide the council through the expansion process so far, presented eight potential plans Tuesday, seven of them centered on expanding space at the existing 5.3-acre site, at the corner of Orangeburg and Dutch Hill Roads in Orangeburg. The eighth plan would be to abandon the current site altogether and construct a brand new town hall and police station on a 27-acre vacant parcel of land the town already owns at the former Rockland Psychiatric Center Campus, about three blocks away.

Senior partner Noel Musial said the firm is leaning toward keeping town hall where it currently sits, primarily because of the cost factor. That complex of two buildings can be expanded for about half the cost of constructing a brand new and much larger building at RPC, Musial said, adding that since he understands cost to be a major factor, he and his staff are leaning toward the other seven options of expanding the present facility.

He presented both written and projected descriptions of each of the eight options to the board, and said the next step in the process is for the five-member council to decide which two or three plans it likes the most, based on the preliminary information now available to them. Once that occurs, the firm will develop and present much more detailed plans for those two or three options, so the board can select one over the others.

At that point Musial or whatever firm is eventually hired to prepare the final building plans, will proceed with those drawings, following which the board can advertise for construction bids, select the lowest qualified firm, and watch construction begin.

The current town hall was built in 1959, replacing a series of rented offices in Nyack for the preceding century. A new police station was constructed adjacent to Town Hall in 1992. The town also maintains offices in four separate locations, but does not intend to re-locate any of them into the new municipal complex, town officials and the Musial group agreed.

They include Highway and Sewer, located on adjacent parcels of a former drive-in theater off Route 303 in Orangeburg; Parks and Recreation, located in a 200-year-old sandstone house at Veterans Memorial Park in Orangeburg and the Building Department and Code Enforcement Offices housed in a former elementary school on Greenbush Road in Orangeburg. A town museum and historian’s office are also located in a two-century-old sandstone house on Chief William Harris Way, on a site that was also part of the RPC campus before most of the state mental hospital was closed and sold off piecemeal as patients were placed in group homes instead of huge institutions.

Orangetown has been buying many of the vacated parcels as quickly as they became available. Some are used for municipal functions while others remain vacant. More recently, the town has been re-selling some of those former RPC lots to private buyers, including four to firms which have or soon will construct data centers on the vacant land, giving the town a profit from the land sales, and annual income from property taxes the firms pay the town.

The lot at RPC that Musial studied for a new town hall consists of 27.6 acres of vacant land in the parcel known as “the triangle” between Orangeburg Road and Old Orangeburg Road, and between Chief Bill Harris Way and the entrance road to the National Guard armory.

Most of that lot is officially designated wetlands that can’t easily be built on, Musial said, leaving only 7.6 acres at the center of the site available for a new Town Hall.

The cost of constructing a brand new town hall and police station there, along with space for the building and code enforcement departments, was estimated by the firm at about $20.7 million, by far the most expensive of the eight options discussed Tuesday.

Expanding town hall at its current location ranged in price from $10.2 to $12.1 million, depending on the alternatives.

The biggest savings there is that the current two-story police station and courtroom structure is so modern and in such good condition that it would remain in all seven options. It contains 27,775 square feet of space, and also includes the Town Clerk’s office as well as the only handicapped entrance to the entire Town Hall complex. The 1959 town hall, which contains all other municipal offices, contains 21,000 square feet.

That structure was poorly designed and poorly constructed, Musial told the board, explaining why four of the seven options for upgrading the site involve removing that building altogether and replacing it with a larger, more modern and more functional facility.

The “old” town hall “has some structural damage that is visible from the basement mechanical room,” Musial began his 100-page report. “The outside flange of the steel columns were once encased with concrete (but) in many areas the concrete has spalled away which allows the steel flanges to be unprotected and exposed to the weather.

“Current handicapped requirements are not met in many areas including all toilets and door dimensions,” the report went on to state, while “The mechanical system also needs to be upgraded” and it is possible the structure is laden with asbestos, which would have to be abated.

“Without costly remodeling and repair to this building, there is a limited number of useful years left for this building,” Musial concluded, in explaining why his firm was leaning toward the options that include its demolition and replacement with a larger and more useful and efficient structure.

Musial said the current town hall complex has parking for 170 vehicles, while their seven optional plans for the site call for expanded parking of 215 spaces, including police vehicles, building employees and visitors.

Musial listed the departments of town government which would occupy the expanded town hall, including the supervisor’s office and staff, finance department, town assessor, town clerk and staff, receiver of taxes, town justice court, town attorney, human resources, IT department, building, planning and zoning and respective inspectors, fire prevention, police, an office for the town’s two unions (CSEA and PBA), mechanical and utility departments and storage space.

Optional plans for the expansion of the current site included the following:

Option 1: Demolish the existing town hall and construct a new and larger two-story building in its place. Could be done in stages to avoid disruption of town business. Cost estimate $10.2 million.

Option 2: Renovate and upgrade the existing town hall, while adding an addition on the west side of that building.

Option 3: Renovate and upgrade existing town hall but add a third floor.

Option 4: Demolish the existing town hall and add a new two-story structure on the west side, with an open-air atrium separating the two structures. Cost estimate $12.1 million.

Option 5:  Demolish existing town hall and construct two new floors of office space above the police department and courtroom facility.

Option 7: Construct a new two-story town hall west of and adjacent to the police department. Demolish existing town hall.

Option 8: Repair and upgrade the existing town hall and add two floors on top.

Town Board members appeared to agree with Musial after his presentation that remaining at their current location was both operationally and economically advisable as compared to moving the entire Town Hall complex to the RPC site.

The board would also then have to wrestle over what to do with the abandoned current Town Hall, including renting it to a third party, selling it, or some other option.

As it is, the board is going to have to decide what to do with its half of the former Greenbush Elementary School, once the building department and code enforcement unit vacate that site for the expanded new town hall a couple of blocks away.

Orangetown purchased the site from the South Orangetown Central School District about three decades ago. A few years later they granted free use of half of the 1920’s brick structure to the Orangeburg Public Library, which is still located there, rent free, with the town also paying all utilities for the building.

The code enforcement department is located in a set of Quonset hut buildings added to the school in the 1940’s by the Army, when it occupied the entire region as part of the Camp Shanks staging area for the European War Theater. After the war it became part of the Shanks Village veterans housing complex, and was eventually returned to the school district, which in turn sold it to Orangetown.

Left unresolved if all town offices leave that facility is what would happen to the Camp Shanks Museum that occupies two more of the Quonset huts at the school complex. The museum also pays no rent, and is a non-profit organization run by Rockland County veterans.

It is unknown at this time if the library wants to expand into the entire former schoolhouse, and/or the adjacent Quonset huts, apparently leaving it up to the Town Board for the moment to make that decision.

Council members indicated to Musial that it hoped to narrow the eight suggested options the firm presented Tuesday to two or three, as suggested, and then allow the firm time to conduct a more thorough investigation of those options, develop cost and time estimates, and prepare actual specifications for the work.

The firm’s contract would then expire, according to Supervisor Andrew Stewart.

The town would then vote for a single plan, and advertise for a firm to draw up specifications to accomplish that plan. Musial could be one of the bidders, if it so desired, but has been given no guarantee that it will get the contract. Firm officials indicated Tuesday however that it does intend to bid and hopefully win the final design contract.

A subsequent council vote would then select an actual construction firm, from among bidders for that contract.

The Musial report suggested that the town could rely on the winning bidder to supervise his own work, hire a firm such as Musial to do that for the town, or hire a construction supervisor itself for about $550,000.