Panel mulling homes for Amsterdam City Hall

Although officials have scheduled several tours of City Hall for members of the city’s City Hall Rel

Although officials have scheduled several tours of City Hall for members of the city’s City Hall Relocation Committee, the mayor said there are no current plans to move the government’s main administration operations to a different location.

Mayor Ann Thane said her goal is to make use of the space the city already has available. The tours were given to show members of the relocation committee what improvements have been made to the property since she took office nearly three years ago.

About a dozen small rooms once used as storage were either cleaned and reorganized or turned into additional office space. The main lobby and another dozen or so offices were repainted. The estate also underwent a major asbestos cleanup project in its basement, and a new boiler unit was installed.

“The condition things were left in was unacceptable,” said Thane.

The improvements cost the city between $12,000 and $14,000 over three years. The asbestos cleanup cost about $150,000, but Thane said it was a major health and safety violation that the city had been aware of since the 1990s and could no longer ignore.

Still, the roof needs repair, portions of the electrical and heating systems need updating and most of the building’s windows need to be refurbished.

This may be why some committee members feel City Hall should be moved from the mansion that once served as a carpet magnate’s home.

The committee is in the early stages of its work and has had only two meetings since March. Still unknown is whether it would be more cost-efficient to fully repair the City Hall, also known as the Sanford Estate, or lease or construct new space to serve as City Hall.

Alderman Joseph Isabel, R-1st Ward, is chairman of the committee. He said although he was impressed with the improvements made to the building by the current administration, he would continue to look at the project from a fiscal point of view.

“It’s better to downsize our government spending than to have to let a fireman or policeman go,” he said.

Isabel said according to documents provided by the city comptroller, the estate costs $160,000 a year to operate, $60,000 for heating alone.

Isabel said he felt it would be more cost-effective and efficient to have a new building constructed. He said the new building could be much smaller than the mansion and would cost less to heat and power.

“Whoever bought the home may be able to take care of it better than we can,” said Isabel.

Thane said the property has been assessed at $400,000 to $600,000, but she worries how long it would sit on the market if put up for sale. The city would be responsible for the building’s maintenance during that time.

The committee is split on its opinion of whether City Hall should be moved. Many feel the estate is an important historical site that should be kept in the city’s possession.

The mansion was once the home of Stephen Sanford, one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers. He purchased and remodeled the home in 1869. In 1932, his son John donated the mansion for use as City Hall.

Thane said: “I think it’s a huge mistake to divest City Hall from this building. Amsterdam is proud of its history and we need to think critically about what we should protect and what we should let go.”

All but four City Hall employees have signed a petition seeking to remain in the mansion. Lisa Luber, an employee for the city Housing Department, started the petition.

“It was given to the city for the express purpose of being used as City Hall,” she said. “There is a lot of history here that exemplifies the glorious city Amsterdam once was and can be again. Why lose that?”

Isabel said he didn’t believe ownership of the mansion was a matter for employees to be involved with.

“This is a fiscal decision that needs to be made by officials,” he said. “Money is tight for everyone and it’s not only our city having to face these decisions.”

Although the mansion was left to the city for the specific purpose of housing City Hall, Isabel said there were no specifications in the original deed that prevent its sale.

The committee is currently looking into how much it has cost other local municipalities to build a new city hall and gathering estimates.

Additionally, the city is looking into several grants it could receive to help with the building’s upkeep.

The Sanford Estate is on the National Historic Landmark Registry. City officials are researching whether state or federal funds could be obtained to restore the mansion.

The city is also looking into an energy efficiency grant and a records management grant to consolidate and electronically store the thousands of documents housed within the building.

A decision on the future of City Hall is not expected to be made in time for the current budget session.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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