Saratoga County

Moldy neighborhood center in Saratoga Springs may be demolished

Fixing the mold-plagued William H. Ford Neighborhood Center would cost nearly a half-million dollars

Fixing the mold-plagued William H. Ford Neighborhood Center would cost nearly a half-million dollars, a price the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority seems unwilling to pay when its east side residents can simply utilize space at the city Recreation Center.

Members of the authority’s Board of Commissioners were advised that the now-shuttered building on Fenlon Street requires roughly $400,000 in repairs due to the extent of damage and deficiencies at the location. It was constructed relatively recently, in 1998, but has experienced drainage and sewer problems, which may have contributed to the mold discovered when city code enforcers ordered it closed.

“It’s a lot of money and we just don’t have it,” said Ed Spychalski, the authority’s executive director.

The alternative is demolition. And it’s an alternative the commissioners seemed eager to explore before contamination from the neighborhood center causes them more trouble.

The commissioners established a three-member committee to explore a disposition for the building during their meeting Thursday. But the general consensus was that it serves little purpose to repair the structure when low-income residents from Vanderbilt Terrace and Jefferson Terrace can simply utilize space at the 4-year-old 33,000-square-foot facility within walking distance of the defunct neighborhood center.

Paul Feldman, the authority’s assistant executive director, said the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development actually encourages the integration of public housing residents with the rest of the community. He said exclusive neighborhood centers like the one on Fenlon Street can sometimes “segregate or isolate” authority residents from the surrounding neighborhoods.

“To spend this type of taxpayer dollars — over $400,000 — is not a good use of this money,” he advised the commissioners.

Another issue with the Ford Neighborhood Center is that the authority hasn’t had much success with the programs it has sited at the building. Board Chairman Eric Weller said most programs operated from the building start off with decent attendance, then dwindle.

“We haven’t had much luck up there,” he said. “Having something that serves the wider community makes so much more sense.”

Though the authority board didn’t take definitive action, it did make one thing clear: They will decide the fate of the building, rather than just let it sit. Both Feldman and Spychalski advised the commissioners they’d have to decide whether to demolish or fix it.

“We’re looking at our options, but this is a housing authority issue, not a city issue,” Spychalski said. “Whatever we do, we have to come up with a plan.”

Named in honor of the authority’s first executive director, the center was built to promote resident involvement in the neighborhood activities such as after-school programs, a food bank, domestic violence programs, community policing and Neighborhood Watch. But city officials discovered the mold during a tour of the building arranged by city Mayor Joanne Yepsen. It hasn’t been used since April.

Spychalski defended the authority’s maintenance of the building before the black mold was discovered and faulted some people for misrepresenting its condition inside. He said authority workers kept the building in good shape and the issue of the mold — a respiratory hazard — was not discovered until one of the walls was opened up.

“The picture that was painted out there wasn’t a factual representation,” he said.

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