A traveling roadshow of sorts will seek to educate Woodstockers about the planned $2.9 million in improvements to the town’s Comeau Drive offices and the Supervisor’s Cottage and the November 2 bond vote that would finance it.
The capital project, designed by Les and Jess Walker of Walker Architecture of Woodstock, features an addition that would bring all offices in the old mansion that now houses most town departments to the first floor to make them more accessible to the public. It would also allow them to move multiple heavy file cabinets to the first floor to take the load off sagging support beams and save the early 1900s house from collapse. The second floor can then be limited to storage and office space for Town Board members. The Supervisor’s Cottage would also get refurbished with better insulation and a new heating and ventilation system.
While the price tag is now estimated at $2.9 million, a jump from $2.1 million since the pandemic drove up costs, voters will only be asked for permission to borrow $1 million. The town has saved some surplus funds over the years for this project.
McKenna and other Town Board members will be on hand at each of the town’s firehouses to explain the plan. “I’ve reached out to [Fire] Company 2 in Wittenberg, Company 3 in Lake Hill and Company 4 in Zena and asked them to pick a Wednesday in September or the first two Wednesdays in October,” Supervisor Bill McKenna. The exact dates will be announced when they are confirmed by each fire company.
The architectural drawings and a model will be on display, but the community meetings are not limited to the Comeau project, McKenna noted. “It’s really a meet your elected officials night,” McKenna said, noting Ulster County Legislature Majority Leader Jonathan Heppner plans to attend. Attendees can bring up any topic of concern, he said.
Civic Design critics
Town employees have said the project is long overdue and have recently expressed fears of the heavy file cabinets falling through the second floor and into the first floor. Large patches of plaster have fallen into the town clerk’s office and the large meeting room.
But the project is not without its critics, particularly the Commission for Civic Design (CCD). The advisory panel has voiced several concerns at meetings where the project was discussed. The shed roof for the addition is not complimentary to the architecture of the existing house, it noted in an April opinion. It also said the proposed access to the addition through the meeting room is disruptive. The CCD suggested the town clerk counter could be relocated outside the meeting room to be less disruptive.
The Commission also criticized the continued use of the cottage for the supervisor’s and bookkeeper’s offices as a poor use of town funds and said they should be under the same roof as other town functions.
CCD chair David Ekroth said the panel voiced concerns in a February 2020 letter to the Town Board after receiving a formal request to review the project. A planned public hearing didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic
The CCD was unaware that in the meantime, Walker Architecture was forging ahead with the process. “We didn’t realize the Walkers were moving into construction documents,” Ekroth said. The CCD asked the architects to look into alternative concepts, but that was never done, he said.
At an April Town Board meeting, Ekroth again raised the CCD’s concerns, but feels McKenna has decided he is the enemy. “Bill McKenna seems to think I’m the bad guy but all five of us have been unanimous,” Ekroth said. “The CCD in effect has not been heard very well. We haven’t gone along with this design and said ‘Well it will be just fine,’ because it isn’t fine.”
Ekroth, who plans to attend one of the firehouse meetings, hopes things may change if the public sees the design and speaks out about it, though the architects are far along in the design process. He said the CCD is merely pointing out what it sees as issues with the design. “We’re trying to be good citizens, not just be troublemakers,” he said.
The CCD is an advisory commission, so its recommendations are non-binding.
The town has committed to a $3 million spending cap and will work with an estimator to conduct value engineering if estimates exceed that number. Materials can be substituted and plans can be scaled back to meet the budget. The cost of the $1 million bond to the taxpayer with a median home value of $307,000 is $20.22 per year in the beginning, then steadily declining for an average of $18 per year over 15 years.