The New Paltz Town Board got some encouraging news at its July 9 special meeting from Joe Hurwitz, the architect retained by the town to do a preliminary assessment of how many municipal government functions – including possibly the Village Hall — could be accommodated within the footprint of the old Town Hall on Veterans’ Drive if the mold-ridden structure were to meet the wrecking ball. “Will this site work? From my point of view, it works perfectly,” said Hurwitz, displaying a preliminary conceptual sketch of two possible phases of redevelopment.
The first phase, contained entirely within the parcel already owned by the town and preserving the existing Community Center, envisions the new Town Hall as encompassing 25,000 square feet within three stories, with the top floor half the size of the lower two. “Twenty-five thousand square feet is all we need even if we consolidate both municipalities,” asserted Josh Honig, a member of the Building Committee that has been tasked with finding the town government a more permanent home than its current modular facility on Clearwater Road.
“We mean consolidating space, not governments,” town supervisor Susan Zimet hastened to add. The Thursday discussion followed a Wednesday Village Board meeting in which village officials expressed guarded interest in pursuing a potential joint solution to both municipalities’ issues of space constraints, which at this point in time are far more pressing for the town. While the modular Town Hall has proven beneficial in that “Nobody’s sick anymore, and productivity is up phenomenally,” Zimet said that the site is inconvenient for residents in that it is too far from the center of town, and that its utility costs will be not sustainable in the long run. “The building’s totally electric…Last winter we got heating bills that we were not prepared for.”
Zimet is also advocating strongly that the town Justice Court and Police Department be reunited on one site for the safety of court employees — ideally at the new Town Hall. “The limiting factor is parking,” said Hurwitz, suggesting that the same space could be designed to accommodate both Town Hall meetings and the court with careful scheduling. “You need 100 [parking] spaces for when you have the court,” said Building Committee chair Dave Lent. The architect said that the existing site could be made to work if 30 of the Police Department’s required 50 parking spaces were moved to a satellite location, noting that only 20 police vehicles need to be able to make a “quick exit from the site” at any given time.
The expanded phase of reconstruction shown on Hurwitz’s site study sketch would add another 90 parking spaces if some adjoining property immediately to the south could be annexed from Moriello Park, with parking extending along the footpath to the park as far as the existing bridge. But because the parkland was initially acquired with federal and state grant funding whose terms restrict it to recreational use only, the town and village, co-owners of the park, would have to request an order of “alienation” from the New York State Legislature. “The Legislature probably couldn’t take it up until 2016,” said Lent, urging the town not to wait for a decision from the village to move forward on seeking help from the state.
Honig praised the architect’s track record of green design for municipal buildings, calling the new geothermally heated and cooled Esopus Town Hall “so well-planned” in terms of flow, with meeting rooms that can be reconfigured for different-sized gatherings. Hurwitz pointed out that the old Town Hall site has a “perfect southern exposure. I could make the whole roof a big solar collector.”
Responding to a question about potential future growth in demand for municipal services, he added that a new Town Hall could even be expandable: “I could design it with a knockout panel at one end of the building with no parking. If that time comes, it could accommodate that need.” Building Committee members, some of whom have spent decades on this quest, have repeatedly asserted that they want the next New Paltz Town Hall to be built to last 50 to 100 years. And Zimet, who is not running for reelection, wants to see significant progress on the project made before she leaves office. “My time is clicking down to December 31,” she said. “I’d like to see something get done.”
“I’m excited by this idea and want to move forward,” agreed councilman Dan Torres. “I’m hoping that the village decides to work with us.” The village and town boards will both send representatives to the next Building Committee meeting, and the Village Board has agreed to discuss its own potential involvement in the project — or a similar one on the Village Hall property — at its next meeting on July 22.