Schenectady County has put on hold plans to convert the former TrustCo Corp. headquarters on Erie Boulevard into a office building for staff, citing a lack of money for the project.
County Attorney Chris Gardner said the county has reassessed using the building in light of the economy and with an eye toward seeing further reductions in state and federal aid.
“With the country going into a deep recession in 2008, Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo and everyone are saying we have to be more realistic about what we want versus what we need,” Gardner said.
Instead, Gardner said, the county may eventually sell the building.
“We have had several developers inquire about its availability. With the reconstruction of Erie Boulevard, we view it as an appreciating asset,” he said. “If it were to be sold, we would make a profit on the building.”
County Legislator James Buhrmaster, R-Glenville, said selling the building is a good idea.
“If we are not going to move in, we should move it. It is another building off the tax rolls. We have to be a little smarter about what we are doing with it,” he said.
The county bought the seven-story building in 2005 for $2.4 million and conducted a $200,000 environmental study of the property. It wanted to use the building for office space and as part of a larger plan to comply with a mandate by the state Office of Court Administration to alleviate overcrowding in Family Court and improve overall security for all courts in the county, including City Court. The city is also under mandate to improve its court conditions.
As part of the purchase deal, TrustCo gave the county $500,000 in credits to be used to clean up the site and sold the building for $750,000 below market value, taking a tax writeoff for it.
Gardner added that the county Legislature has made no decision to sell the building, which measures 80,000 square feet. The county is using the building for storage.
In the meantime, the county’s proposal to modernize court facilities also appears to be on hold, Gardner said.
“The county manager has been working with OCA closely. We had some decisions in mind, but no determination has been made as far as going forward with the project because of the economy. I don’t anticipate going forward because of the current conditions of the economy,” he said.
Gardner added that the county can proceed with court modernization without using the TrustCo building.
Vito C. Caruso, administrative judge for the 4th Judicial District, which includes Schenectady County, said, “Nothing is moving forward as I can see it. Some of the rehabilitation [to modernize courts in the county] is patchwork and Band-Aids and is not good from a security point.”
Caruso said the county made a proposal 18 months ago to address the OCA mandate. Its plan called for moving Family Court into a separate facility and then putting the other courts — surrogate, county, supreme and city — into the County Courthouse and the County Office Building, which sit side-by-side on State Street.
Caruso said this plan runs “counterintuitive to our idea of consolidation.” He said the idea is to move all employees from the County Office Building, which would have been reconfigured to include all of the courts. “However, the physical layout of that building could not accommodate what we wanted to do. If we took over operation of both of those buildings [the COB and courthouse], that would be adequate,” he said.
Caruso said the county has “not done the consolidation between city and county courts that has been anticipated,” but he added that there is no real deadline to meet the mandate.
“ ‘As soon as possible’ was the buzzword. I am in my second 14-year term now. I started talking about the needs here two years into my first term. We have put things on hold for the county’s convenience,” he said. “It is a long process, and we have been very patient.”
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