LOWVILLE — After 15 years of debate and deliberation, a capital project to rehabilitate two county buildings has taken another step forward, but only after more debate and deliberation of the “new building” versus extreme renovations to the existing building conundrum.

C&S Engineering of Syracuse presented concepts, layouts, costs and timeframes during a special Lewis County Board meeting on Tuesday for a two-pronged project that will renovate the old and build a new highway garage and related structures at East Road and Route 812, and completely gut and renovate the Department of Social Services buildings on Outer Stowe Street.

“We looked at the existing facilities. We looked at the efficiency of the existing facilities as well as the makeup of the facilities, the structure of the facilities, the facilities compared to current-day codes and just an overall analysis of the facilities,” said architect Patrick Currier, “And we met with the different departments to go through their goals and needs.”

The concept for the highway garage project involves “adaptive reuse” of the highway garage to house offices for three departments that will move out of their present offices and the construction of a new 17,424-square-foot highway facility, a 7,500-square-foot cold storage building and a 1,380-square-foot vehicle wash building at a projected construction and site preparation cost of about $6.4 million, not including some of the optional additions in the concept proposal.

Departments that will move to the offices that will emerge from the current highway garage will include Recreation, Forestry and Parks; the Soil and Water Conservation District; and USDA Rural Development.

Highway Department offices will be situated in the new building.

Some key features of the new garage design include drive-through bays for trucks, the positioning of the equipment washing bay so trucks can exit the wash and drive directly into the bays in the garage and moving the main entrance to a location further away from the busy intersection for both safety and ease of use, the architect said.

The pre-fabricated, 30-year-old Department of Social Services building will be completely disassembled with only the structure’s steel skeleton fit for further use.

Everything else will be completely done new with up-to-date technology like upgrades to the security and life safety systems, new sprinkler systems, new wiring throughout, upgrading insulation and water collection to avoid run-off damage to the outside of the building, a new layout of the various department offices and, with the three departments gone to the Highway building, the Board of Elections and their equipment will also have dedicated space.

The maintenance shop currently on the DSS campus will be re-worked so that it can also contain voting machines with the legally necessary accessibility.

All of the changes will be wrapped in a new “building envelope” with a brick-face that will compliment the color of the corner bricks which will be all that remains of the current exterior.

Initial plans involved building a new addition on the structure, but the C&S team said the discussions with the people in the departments currently operating out of the building including the Office for the Aging and Community Services made clear that the extra space would not be necessary if the current space is well-designed.

The extreme makeover of the more than 20,000-square-foot structure is estimated to come with a price tag of about $5 million with an additional $1.6 million for the site preparation and construction for the maintenance shop and storage shed.

The total project cost, including the approximately $1.6 million for the C&S contract for architectural and engineering services, is estimated at $18.83 million including the now-completed concept phase.

District 7 Legislator Greg Kulzer raised concerns about the cost of the buildings, referencing the higher-than-expected costs to construct the Lewis County JCC Education Center — also a C&S project.

Engineer Chuck Brooks, who worked on that project, noted that with the Education Center, the original concept was created by a different engineering firm which may have led to unrealistic expectations about the costs for the final form of the project.

“We wanted to avoid that in this project by doing this first conceptual phase, to give you more information before you voted on the project,” said Mr. Brooks said, “Coming into this project, one of the things we talked about was that this phase is really important to understanding what the real cost of the project is going to be. We don’t do a project without vetting out the scope and talking to each stakeholder.”

With regard to a timeline, C&S proposed having the design phase completed by the end of summer, seeking bids for the project in December with shovels in the ground beginning in March 2022. Construction is projected for completion in March 2023.

During the board’s discussion of the plans C&S had presented, Mr. Kulzer said he thought it would be better for taxpayers to build a new two-story building for all of the departments currently housed in the DSS building, the Department of Elections and the Department of Motor Vehicles as well.

He estimated, based on the figures presented by C&S, that the cost, once state reimbursements and savings from rented spaces currently used for Elections and Motor Vehicles, the new building would cost about $9 million and would last for at least 50 years“if it’s done right.”

District 10 Legislator Jerry King, who is retiring this year and was involved in all of the building discussions since they began, said, “Let’s stop kicking the can down the road.”

“I think that what we’ve got is good, it will work for us,” he added.

Andrea Moroughan, District 6 Legislator, said she was concerned about having “all of (her) eggs in the same basket” considering the space challenges created by social distancing over the past year.

Ultimately, the board voted to move forward with the design phase of the building rehabilitation to be followed by construction with only Mr. Kulzer opposed.

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