Schenectady County

Panel backs $20.4 million service site

The boarded-up and crumbling city building on Foster Avenue, as well as the deteriorating structures

The boarded-up and crumbling city building on Foster Avenue, as well as the deteriorating structures behind it, will be demolished and replaced by a $20.4 million campus, the Schenectady City Council tentatively decided in committee Monday.

The council will vote next week on whether to go ahead with a $1 million design contract for the new Bureau of Service campus. The contract moved out of committee unanimously.

But even though the council is preparing to spend more than $20 million, the expense will not require a tax increase next year, Finance Commissioner Ismat Alam said.

The city has already set aside $1.7 million for the project, and will set aside another $1 million from the as-yet-unannounced 2007 surplus, she said.

The city could borrow $20.4 million and use the savings account to pay off the first four years of the loan, she said. By 2012, the city will also have paid off several other big debts, allowing it to take on the rest of the project’s cost without seeing an increase in debt payments each year.

“We can fund the debt service without increasing the tax rate,” Alam said.

The city might face some criticism for the plan anyway. Moody’s Investors Services has told the city that it is carrying three times as much debt as it should. In June, the credit agency said it was pleased that Schenectady was paying down that debt rapidly.

The city currently spends $9.4 million every year on debt, including long-term debt and new debt for the capital expenses that are added every year. Under Alam’s plan, the city would never spend more than that — and the city’s total annual debt payment would go down to $7.5 million in 2013. It would then continue to decrease every year unless other big expenses are added to the city’s debt.

The Foster Avenue project, if approved, would consolidate all of the General Service departments, including trash collection, vehicle storage, plowing, water and sewer. The hope is to create more efficient services because everything will be on one site. City officials also say they will save money by running one big, energy-efficient office instead of six offices spread throughout the city.

Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said the residents who live near the project won’t see a significant increase in truck traffic because all of the city’s vehicles have to go to the site now to fuel up every day. However, he wants to pave Seneca Street and add turning lanes if the project goes forward.

He said the city’s buildings are deteriorating to the point where he may have to lease office space until the new campus is built.

The city’s garages are also too narrow and short for the city’s modern fleet. The salt shed is so short that drivers have damaged the roof as they pick up salt, project manager Dan DeGennaro of Clough Harbour & Associates said.

The city also doesn’t have a truck wash, which is required under the state’s new stormwater regulations. Dirt and oil from commercial vehicles cannot be washed into the storm drains. They must be collected and piped into the sewage treatment system. That alone will cost the city an estimated $360,000, according to Clough Harbour.

A new salt shed would cost $510,000, but the city has received a $375,000 shared-services state grant because the county and Niskayuna will use the shed as well.

“We’ll share with the county for the northwestern side of the county. It’s quicker for them,” Olsen said. “Also with Niskayuna, for this side of town, to hasten their response time, and we’ll serve as a backup facility for Scotia and Glenville.”

The most expensive piece of the project is a covered and heated vehicle storage area. That would cost about $2.6 million. A similarly sized and covered but unheated vehicle storage area would cost $1.6 million. Both are needed on the campus, according to Clough Harbour.

While many city vehicles can stay in the unheated area, the city needs a heated space for the trash collectors, which must be plugged into block heaters for cold mornings. Vehicles that have been prepped for an imminent snowstorm also need to be in a heated area, Olsen said.

The project also calls for a $2.3 million office building, which would be built with certain materials to qualify as a “green” and energy-efficient structure. Olsen said he’s hoping the city can get a state grant for the building because of its green status.

The city could renovate its buildings instead of demolishing them, as well as building a space on the campus for all of the city’s vehicles. That would cost $11 million, but Clough Harbour associates urged the council to build new. The old buildings would cost more in the long run through increased maintenance and energy inefficiences, they said. The city also wouldn’t get the benefit of consolidating all the services on one campus, Olsen said.

“We have reached a critical point,” he said. “This is a very ambitious project. Unfortunately previous administrations never tackled this issue and these facilities have gotten worse and worse over time    as difficult as this is to swallow, it is long overdue.”

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