Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs renovation work seen as bargain despite cost

Going roughly $800,000 over budget for a renovation project may not sound like a good deal, unless t

Going roughly $800,000 over budget for a renovation project may not sound like a good deal, unless the structures being remodeled are City Hall and the adjoining annex building.

The project to reconfigure the city’s Police Department and public safety offices is almost completed, save for a few small details. The final tally for the 10-month project is hovering around $1.2 million — roughly three times the bid submitted by the original contractor.

The overrun was a result of a project that seemed to grow in size and scope with every wall that came down. From discovering friable asbestos covering concealed pipes to a badly rotted floor in the former office of the police chief, crews seemed to find more work outside of the original scope of the project every time they cut into a wall.

“We got to the point where we knew every day was going to be a new surprise,” said Assistant Police Chief John Catone, who oversaw the renovation. “If we stay on top of [maintenance], we’ll be good for quite a long time.”

The cost of renovations also doesn’t seem too high when considering the estimates for building a new police headquarters from scratch. Studies conducted in 2007 suggested building a new station could cost somewhere between $10 million and $15 million.

Now, the 66-member police force has a modern facility that is up to code, streamlined and able to serve the department well into the future. The project corrected decades-old problems that periodically left the department in legal trouble and more effectively utilizes the existing space so the police aren’t running into the operational difficulties they experienced under the station’s former layout.

“From an operational standpoint, we’ve made it so that everything flows much better,” Catone said. “We’ve utilized every inch of space we possibly could.”

From the start, city officials ran into issues. The original general contractor — Eastern Building & Restoration — folded exactly a month after being awarded the project, leaving asbestos abatement underway and parts of both buildings already dismantled.

The city was able to bring on the second-lowest bidder on the project — Hoosic Valley Contractors — in short order to pick up where Eastern left off. But very early on, the new contractor realized its bid of $428,000 for the work wasn’t going to cut it.

The asbestos removal was a major factor. Catone said almost every time workers opened up a new wall, they found more of the cancer-causing insulation.

“The more we did, the more asbestos we found,” he said.

They also found other, more serious structural problems. In one instance, a wall framed by two-by-fours was found to be the only thing holding up a rear staircase.

“That was the only thing supporting those stairs,” he said.

Crews discovered a massive iron pipe carrying raw sewage had ruptured, leaking effluent into a space below the department’s booking area. They also found a leaking water pipe had rotted out joists beneath the chief’s office — enough so the floor likely would have collapsed under the 30,000 pounds of equipment for the department’s computer servers, had it not been repaired.

The entire facility also needed to be rewired. The jumbled mess of wires snaking through the space lacked any labeling; some were even outdated wires still live and connecting to exposed electrical boxes.

“None of it was labeled, and it was all well past code,” he said.

The reconfiguration created a new roll-call and training room for the department, something it previously lacked. The administrative offices were relocated to the second floor of City Hall, allowing the department to add an investigations room and small cybercrime office.

The project also grouped the booking area closer to the cell block. Officers can now bring suspects from an area where they are booked directly back to the rear holding cells without having to cross into other areas of the station.

The locker facilities also got a massive overhaul. The project created separate spaces and bathrooms for men and women, something lacking under the previous alignment.

The department was forced to make temporary arrangements for its female officers after a group of them filed a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights in 2007. The city ultimately paid eight female officers $10,000 apiece to settle the complaint in 2009.

The work on the station also corrected issues with the jail cells cited by the state Department of Corrections and Community Services. Locks were replaced on the entire cellblock and cameras were installed facing each one so officers can better monitor detainees.

Moving the department’s leadership to the second floor of City Hall is an arrangement Catone doesn’t consider ideal, but relocating the brass has helped free up more space and allowed the city to modernize the station.

“It’s really good for men and women of this department,” he said, “and it’s good for morale.”

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