Town of New Paltz municipal employees have been looking for offices for sale, and should finally be able to relocate their offices from the hopelessly mold-contaminated Town Hall to rented modular units before the snow flies, it was announced at a special Town Board meeting on Thursday, October 2. Supervisor Susan Zimet said that she had just signed a contract two days previously to lease the modulars, which will soon be installed on the grounds of the New Paltz Highway Department headquarters on Clearwater Road. Town highway superintendent Chris Marx, speaking in his capacity as head of the Buildings and Grounds department, said that a concrete pad had already been installed at the site, along with water, sewer and electrical hookups. He said that the excavated area needed to be repaved, but that in other respects the site was ready for delivery of the temporary office units. Building inspector Stacy Delarede said that the target date for delivery was October 20, but that the units “could come sooner.”
Complicating the move is the need to reinstall telephone and computer systems from the old Town Hall, which Delarede thought would take a minimum of four days. She explained that the old phone system “has to stay up and running” at Town Hall because it “feeds the Community Center,” but that an “upgraded box” is available that would provide portable and expandable service. One analogue copper phone line would be kept as backup in the event of power failures, and the others replaced with a digital system providing 18 lines, 32 digital extensions and 23 handsets, “independent of the current server.”
In addition, said Delarede and Marx, the old Town Hall would need to have a minimal level of electrical service, data transmission lines and heat sustained even after closure for the weekly visits of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ mobile unit. Some work would continue to be done at Town Hall after the move, going through files and deciding what can be discarded and what must be kept and decontaminated by an industrial hygienist contractor. By state law, many original Building Department documents must be kept permanently, said Delarede; and although some can be digitized, “We don’t have the capability to scan large building plans.”
Supervisor Zimet expressed regret that municipal services would be situated so far from the center of town after the move, but said that there was no choice for the time being. Town employees can no longer work safely in Town Hall, and the long, narrow parcel on which it is situated cannot accommodate additional structures without demolishing the old one. Zimet said that town officials had looked at many buildings closer to downtown New Paltz in search of a temporary home to lease, but found “no building available that would meet our needs.” Setting up a temporary base at the Highway Department site “seemed to be our most sensible move,” she said.
Two independent reports of the results of mold tests identified Town Hall as suffering from “sick building syndrome” so entrenched and pervasive that it would cost nearly as much to try to clean up as to replace the building, according to town officials. In addition to black mold, Zimet said that the tests identified “some kind of airborne toxin that’s very rare to find indoors” and that is particularly harmful to people with compromised immune systems, which is true of several town employees.
The meeting started off with a historical review of past efforts to find new space for town offices by members of the Building Committee. Josh Honig reported that mold problems at Town Hall had been identified years earlier, along with other pressing space issues for the police and courts, but that the political will had not existed to push through inevitably costly remedies at taxpayer expense. He read excerpts from a 2005 letter from architect Rick Alfandre saying that “fumes” in Town Hall were one of the issues that “need to be addressed immediately,” and from a 2007 rejection letter for a Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund grant that cited the lack of a plan to address water seepage in storage areas as a reason why the application had been turned down. Another committee member, former town supervisor Carol Roper, recalled that rebuilding plans for Town Hall had been drawn up as early as the Bill Yeaple administration back in the 1980s, but that the proposal had been “beaten down” by voters.
Honig, Roper and Dave Lent — also a former town supervisor — reviewed a number of options for a new permanent home for town offices that the Building Committee had considered when Alfandre conducted his initial space needs assessment in 2007. Some of the ideas that had seemed promising at the time, such as moving into the New Paltz Middle School or constructing a new Town Hall on the Costantino/Brown properties (popularly known as the Pit) behind Village Hall, are now “no longer on the table,” according to Zimet.
Housing at least some departments in a new building adjacent to the auxiliary fire station on Henry W. DuBois Drive has not been ruled out, and there was some discussion at the meeting of the pros and cons of a new two-story building on the current Town Hall site. Adequate parking there would continue to present a challenge, but Lent urged the committee to look into the possibility of annexing some acreage from neighboring Moriello Park.
The meeting ended with the passage of a motion to reconstitute the Building Committee — which, Zimet noted, had never been formally dissolved — with developer George Sifre joining Honig, Roper and Lent, and Kevin Barry serving as Town Board liaison. The committee was tasked with working out next steps, beginning with authorizing Alfandre to update his 2007 space needs study. “The plan is not to have town employees live in modulars for the next 20 years,” Zimet reminded them. “We don’t need to recreate the wheel. We’ve got plans from 30 years ago, and they’re pretty good plans.”
The Town Board scheduled its next special meeting to discuss the Town Hall move for Monday evening, October 6 — too late for deadline for this issue of the New Paltz Times.