Destination unknown: Town wrestles with what to do with the town hall

Town Hall Evaluation Committee Chairman Bob Crane points out sandbags blocking off the entrance to the evacuated basement. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Town Hall Evaluation Committee Chairman Bob Crane points out sandbags blocking off the entrance to the evacuated basement. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

The future of the Town of Ulster’s town hall is still unclear, though town officials and a committee appointed earlier this year to study the issue seem to agree that the sooner something is done about finding a home for the police department, at least, the better.

“The town government is functioning and the delivery of services is not impacted,” said Town Supervisor James Quigley III. “The morale of the police department is another story. They’re not happy.”

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Much of the town’s police department has been operating out of leased trailers due to damage caused by frequent flooding in their lower-level headquarters; the Detective Division is in one trailer and the Patrol Division and administration in another.

Robert Crane, chairman of the nine-member Town Hall Evaluation Committee, said the police department was identified as one of the most pressing matters in the greater issue of an old, damaged town hall facility.

“Our gut feeling is that our first priority is to relocate the police department,” Crane said. “You can’t expect the men and women to work out of the conditions they’re working out of now.”

The options for town hall are numerous, and — as they were when the town conducted its own study in 2011 — potentially expensive. The options for relocating the police department, and possibly the town court, are fraught with different problems as well.

“The police department needs locker rooms with showers, and we have male and female officers, therefore we need two,” Quigley said. “We need a communications center, which is a specialty room. We need to handle dispatch. We need a booking area and an incarceration area which have to be secured. And then we need toilet facilities in general for all those different needs. And you shouldn’t be allowing people who are under arrest to use the same bathroom facilities as the general public.”

According to Quigley, the options today are about the same as they were three years ago: Build an entirely new town hall at the recommended size of around 22,000 square feet; renovate the current town hall facility and add roughly 15,000 square feet of additional space; or find an existing building that the town could retrofit to suit its needs. The primary difference today is that each of these options is more expensive than it was in 2011, a trend that’s unlikely to change.

“In 2011, we estimated that building [a new town hall] was going to cost the town $6 million,” Quigley said. “Today, it’s about two and a half years later, and the current construction costs for that building would be $8 million, and by the time the town was prepared to go to bid and enter into a construction contract, it was estimated that the cost would be approximately $10 million.”

But other options are also likely to be too expensive to consider at present, Quigley noted.

“We are currently in 15,000 square feet in the existing town hall,” he said. “It is acknowledged that the building is technologically obsolete and the building is past its life expectancy. The roof leaks, we have energy efficiency questions, water penetration into the basement, which is causing our problems in the police department, etc. … Those are just the highest-level issues.”

The possibility of building an additional 10,000 square feet of space on the current town hall, for example, comes with its own set of financial constraints.

“The 10,000-square-foot building being half of what you propose for a new town hall should approximately cost you half of what a new town hall costs you,” Quigley said. “And then you’ve got to add on the cost of renovating the existing building and relocating while the buildings are under construction. Is that financially feasible? No.”

Finding a suitable existing building to lease or possibly purchase has changed a bit since 2011, partly because some of the buildings under consideration three years ago are no longer available. Others still are not a good fit, and still more are undetermined.

“We’ve actually gone out to the IBM complex [TechCity] and asked them about it, but they never really got back to us,” Crane said. “I don’t think they’re really considering us. Mr. [Alan] Ginsberg [TechCity chairman] is an odd fellow. When he wants to deal, he wants to deal in hundreds of thousands of square feet. We’re small potatoes.”

Crane identified a few properties in the town as possibilities, including the United Healthcare facility on Boice’s Lane, and two different buildings on Grant Avenue. Of the former, Crane said, parking would be an issue; of the latter, one might be a tight squeeze for the police department, which in an ideal world would have considerable more than the 6,800 square feet one of the Grant Avenue spaces would offer.

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