Schoharie County officials have selected a site for the county’s public safety building, eight months after a previous site was abandoned due to a series of environmental hurdles that would be too costly to clear.
The county Board of Supervisors voted at their May 19 meeting to site the building adjacent to the current county Fire Training Center on Howe Cave Road in Howes Cave. The 100-acre parcel will be combined with an adjoining 58-acre parcel, upon which will be built the new public safety facility and county jail.
Taken together, the facilities will form a “public safety campus,” according to Schoharie County Treasurer and flood recovery coordinator Bill Cherry.
The public safety facility will contain the sheriff’s department, probation department, district attorney’s office and county jail. To save on construction costs, the new jail will contain 66 cells as opposed to the previous jail’s 80 cells.
The current public safety facility is in use but was heavily damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. County officials worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure $37 million in public assistance disaster recovery funding. The entire project at the fire training site is slated to cost $44.3 million. Cherry said the remainder of the project’s cost will likely come out of the county’s fund budget, which currently stands at around $13 million.
“I think we can do it without increasing property taxes,” said Cherry. “I think whatever the county share is we’re probably looking at a five-year pay-off period.”
His strategy is to set aside money from the fund balance each year until the project is completed, which he added will take around 2.5 years.
Cherry said the new facility will be flood-proof, and any site that was suggested to the board of supervisors was hardened against the possibility of flooding.
“It’s out of the 100 and 500 year floodplain,” said Cherry, noting that the facility will be built 700 feet from the Cobleskill Creek and 30 feet above the creek’s water line. “We didn’t include any sites where that was even a theoretical possibility.”
Last year county officials believed they had found an ideal location at the Seebold Farm site on Route 30, just north of the village of Schoharie. Studies conducted under the state’s environmental quality review, however, found there was a water table trapped beneath where they proposed to build, and the presence of Colonial-era artifacts that could make the site eligible for historic status.
Studies also found the existence of federal wetlands along the northwestern and southwestern portions of the site, which would have to be built around.
Cherry said individually each of those problems could be overcome, but when taken together the Seebold site would prove too costly to move forward with.
He applauded the supervisors for selecting the Howe Cave Road site, despite the cost of building there exceeding the funding amount from FEMA.
“I think the board made the right decision, I think it’s a worthwhile investment,” said Cherry. “In the end, we get a public safety building that’s going to be good for the next 50 years.”
The public safety facility and jail will cost about $28.4 million to build, with the balance of the $44.3 million project cost consisting of site excavations, roadway and parking lot improvements, municipal water and sewer connections and design and construction management costs.
Cherry said preliminary testing at the site indicates that it will pass the environmental quality review without the same problems that plagued the Seebold site.
“We have to go through the usual process with SEQR but the preliminary studies show there aren’t any surprises,” he said.
He added that the project will go out to bid sometime in January or February of next year, and the county hopes to break ground in May 2018. The county must pay up front for the construction and submit paperwork to be reimbursed by FEMA.
Cherry said he doesn’t know what will become of the current public safety facility, but advocated for the county washing its hands of the property.
“My feeling is is that the county should try to find some way to no longer own it because FEMA made it clear that they won’t pay for repairs to that building, and I believe it will flood again,” said Cherry. “I’m not convinced that county government needs to keep it.”
He said the county’s public works department expressed interest in the property, but that so far the board of supervisors has not addressed the matter.
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