SARATOGA SPRINGS — Repairing damage caused by an August lightning strike at Saratoga Springs City Hall and extensive modernization will cost about $11.2 million, according to new estimates the City Council has received.
The four-story landmark at Broadway and Lake Avenue has been closed since a lighting strike the night of Aug. 17. The resulting fire and extensive water damage on the first, second and third floors has resulted in city government employees’ moving their offices to other buildings, primarily the city Recreation Center. City officials said they followed an established disaster plan in setting up there.
The city expects to recover between $4 million and $5 million of the repair costs through insurance, but they are planning to spend as much as $7 million extra to modernize plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electric systems in the old building, and to re-organize work spaces. About $5 million will be borrowed.
The full extent of work needed on the nearly 150-year-old building only became clear this week, when architects Clark Patterson Lee of Latham and the city Department of Public Works made a presentation to the council. It now looks like city offices won’t return to the building until fall 2019, more than a year after the fire and longer than originally anticipated.
“This is still very fluid, but it was enough for me to put some numbers together for the budget we plan to pass,” said city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed $47 million 2019 city budget at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the City Center. City Hall renovations will be included in a separate $9.7 million capital spending budget.
Having a renovation plan together so soon after the unexpected disaster shows the steady progress that’s been made, said city Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.
“We had the fire in August, and here we are at the end of November, and we already have a plan,” Scirocco said. “We’ve already done a lot of demolition inside City Hall.”
Madigan said the city had about $1.9 million available for building renovations, and anticipates borrowing $5.3 million. Because the cost will be spread over 20 or 30 years, Madigan said she expects the tax impact to be minimal.
The council is also cutting back on other capital spending, so the renovations can be done without affecting the projected 2019 tax rates. “As soon as we had the lightning strike, this became our top priority,” Madigan said.
Other capital projects that remain in the budget include fire engine and ambulance replacements, and $1.2 million for stabilization of the Loughberry Lake dam, which impounds the city’s water supply reservoir.
Scirocco estimated the cost of the building work alone at just under $10 million, which includes replacing the heating, cooling and plumbing in the building, which opened in 1871 and hasn’t seen extensive renovation since the 1930s. That work is expected to lead to significant energy savings.
Space inside the building will be re-organized. “Clark Patterson Lee is putting together the floor plans based on the information we gave them,” Scirocco said.
The police command staff, which has worked from the building’s second floor, will be moved in with the rest of the Police Department, which is located on the ground floor. The Department of Public Works, which is now on the ground floor, will move to the first-floor space previously occupied by the Planning and Building departments.
The Planning and Building departments will move to the third floor, replacing a law library that is expected to move to Ballston Spa. The third floor music hall will remain where it is now.
The finance, accounts and mayor’s offices will all remain roughly where they are, on the first floor.
The second floor will be almost entirely taken over by the city courts, with renovations adding a second courtroom. The state Office of Court Administration has been pressuring the city to add a second courtroom for years.
There will also be two new elevators: a public one that will include a directory to help people find departments, and a secure one between the Police Department and the courtrooms that will be used to transport prisoners.
Madigan said the $11.2 million figure includes not just the building’s infrastructure upgrades, but the cost of moving departments, buying new furnishings and a $500,000 allocation for scanning and storing historical documents in a computer system. Those rare documents were spared damage during the fire, but Madigan said the situation made city officials realize that those records were vulnerable.
Scirocco the building’s closure lets the city get things done it couldn’t otherwise.
“The lightning strike was unfortunate because everyone had to move — but it was also a godsend, because now there’s no activity in the City Hall. We wouldn’t be able to get this done with people working in there,” he said. “A contractor could work in there 24/7 if they have to.”
Removal of asbestos is expected to start within four to six weeks. Renovations will start in the spring, with the goal of moving back into City Hall in the fall. “That’s a fairly aggressive schedule. You don’t know what you’re going to encounter once you start in,” Madigan said.
But the work is worth it, she added. “It’s a beautiful building that sits right downtown and is a major taxpayer asset,” she said. “It really needs some work.”
The proposed budget calls for property taxes to rise less than a half-percent, with the inside-district rate rising to $6.075 per $1,000 assessed value, and the outside rate set at $6.01.
Overall spending would rise from $46.1 million this year to just under $47 million.
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