Schoharie County is one big step closer to building its replacement public safety facility after securing a purchase agreement for a 58-acre parcel of land adjacent to its fire training center in Howes Cave that, if all goes to plan, will become the site of the federally-funded replacement project.
The current public safety building, which used to include a jail, was damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Since then, county employees have worked in less than ideal conditions at the facility while county prisoners have been housed in jails elsewhere.
County officials recently signed a $188,400 purchase agreement with Howes Cave resident Dennis Berlin for the 58 acres. The county plans to build a new public safety building and jail on the site, provided it passes required state and federal environmental tests over the next four months, according to Schoharie County Treasurer and Flood Recovery Coordinator Bill Cherry.
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 high water table trapped beneath where they proposed to build. The study also revealed the existence of federal wetlands along the northwestern and southwestern portions of the site, which would have to be built around.
Plans for the Seebold Farm site were scrapped last September and the search for a new site began in earnest.
Cherry said that based on preliminary testing conducted at the Howes Cave site, he’s confident it will be the eventual site of the project.
“I’m very comfortable with the preliminary studies we’ve done on the site, enough to make me confident that this site will actually be the site of the new public safety facility,” Cherry said.
Cherry added that a $10,000, non-refundable down payment has already been placed in an escrow account on the site, pending results of the environmental tests. The county lost a $5,000 down payment on the Seebold Farm site after the environmental tests revealed it was unsuitable.
These tests, under the State Environmental Quality Review Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, include mapping of wetlands on a proposed building site, archaeological studies aimed at preserving historical sites, and geotechnical studies that examine core samples of soil.
Cherry said preliminary testing of soil core samples has not revealed any issues with its composition, but about a dozen core samples remain to be taken and analyzed. Cherry said he and other officials hope to have the testing wrapped up in the next four months.
While the tests are being conducted, Cherry said, county engineers and architects are working on plans for the new facility.
The project will cost a total of $44.3 million, with $37 million of that being subsidized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The remaining $7 million or so will be paid by county taxpayers. Cherry said it’s unlikely the county share will come from an increased tax levy. Rather, the county plans to pay its share of the bill incrementally out of the county’s fund balance, which currently stands at around $13.5 million, said Cherry.
The $44.3 million price tag also includes $2 million for work that was completed on the Seebold Farm site and isn’t transferrable to the Howes Cave site. However, Cherry said the county will be reimbursed for that work.
The Howes Farm site was first listed for sale at $160,000, but Berlin asked for and received an additional $28,500 for well and septic work he performed at the site, as well as for relocating a fishing camp on the property.
Construction at the proposed site is expected to cost around $28.3 million, with the remainder of the cost coming from extending sewer service ($5 million), design and architecture work ($2.8 million), and construction management/land acquisition ($7.9 million).
Cherry said county officials hope to have the environmental testing done by the end of the year at the latest. They further hope to have site design work completed by next March, after which it will go out to bid. The county plans to break ground by next May or June, with a completion date of 18 months beyond the start of construction.
When completed, the Howes Cave site will combine the fire training facility, public safety facility and jail into a complex that will be known as the “public safety campus,” Cherry said.
He added that the Howes Cave site was approved to house a jail facility by the NYS Commission of Correction; the agency has oversight of where jails in the state are built.
Cherry said the purchase agreement for the Howes Cave site was approved by the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors.