ROTTERDAM — Four months after lawmakers voted to nullify a lease agreement that would have seen town offices relocate into an old Kmart store at the ViaPort shopping mall, officials have started the process of figuring out how to address its aging facilities.
Supervisor Mollie Collins on Thursday said the town is seeking to replace the roof on the existing Town Hall, and is in the early stages of completing a facility assessment study that will determine the scope of any additional work needed at the building located along Sunrise Boulevard. The study will also examine whether it would be more economically feasible to renovate, relocate or construct a new building to house the town’s police and court operations, currently located on Princetown Road.
“We’re going to do what we did in the same course as ViaPort,” Collins said. “We’re going to have a cost analysis to determine if our buildings are something that can be rehabilitated or if we should build from scratch or if there is a preexisting building we should move in to.”
Engineers from Barton & Loguidice, the engineering firm hired by the town to complete the study, conducted a walkthrough of both facilities and the town’s senior center earlier this week, Collins said.
She added it’s unclear when the assessment will be complete, but noted the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the results once the study is finalized.
A previous study completed by the engineering firm earlier this year estimated that it would cost the town an estimated $14.4 million to rehab its current facilities, including $5.4 million for improvements for the Town Hall and $9 million to upgrade the police and court facility, which includes doubling the 15,000-square-foot space.
Collins said the previous study, completed to examine a cost to relocate services to ViaPort, was only an estimate and did not fully examine the cost to renovate the existing facilities or look at other options, like building new or relocating into a space outside of the shopping mall.
The study comes after a new slate of board members in August voted to nullify a 10-year lease agreement signed by the previous administration that would have consolidated the Town Hall and police and court facility into a 50,000-square-foot space at ViaPort that used to house a Kmart store.
Lawmakers last December agreed to pay a $1 million security deposit to secure the space using federal coronavirus-relief dollars, arguing at the time it would be cheaper to relocate town services than repair the aging infrastructure.
But residents criticized the move for lacking transparency, arguing the town should own its facilities rather than lease, and questioned why lawmakers would spend federal dollars intended to aid pandemic recovery efforts to instead relocate town services.
A slate of lawmakers seated in January — Collins, Deputy Supervisor Jack Dodson and Joseph Mastroianni — voted to nullify the lease in a 3-0 vote over a procedural issue laid out in state law. Samantha Miller-Herrera abstained from the vote and Evan Christou was not in attendance.
In October, lawmakers approved a settlement with ViaPort that would see the $1 million deposit returned in exchange for the town paying $243,750 for voiding the lease — a fraction of the millions the town would have paid over the leases 10-year lifespan. The town paid the settlement using fund balance, which was allocated as part of the 2023 budget approved last month.
On Thursday, Dodson said the town will likely be keeping the existing Town Hall, adding the hope is to finalize a bid on a new roof in the coming weeks so construction can begin as early as next summer. The town is also looking into replacing a boiler at the building.
“The primary objective at Town Hall is that we got to get a roof on,” Dodson said. “Once we get a roof then we start coming down from top to bottom.”
But when it comes to addressing issues at the Police Department and court house, a path forward remains unclear.
A spokesperson for the state’s Unified Court System said the town’s court is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is of sufficient size despite talk of the contrary.
But Dodson said the nearly 100-year-old facility is cramped and does not adequately meet the current needs of either the court and Police Department. He said an elevator used to reach the second-floor courtroom is essentially an old service elevator that has been repurposed and is no longer sufficient.
“We’ll make a decision if we can renovate and put an addition at the location versus going to another location,” Dodson said. “Going to another location could be building new or it could be within some other building that might be out there. That’s part of what this evaluation is going to do.”
Christou, who received criticism after admitting he thought the now-voided ViaPort lease included an option to buy, said there’s no doubt the town’s facilities need to be updated, but expressed concerns about soaring inflation that has driven up construction costs in recent months.
He also expressed concerns about the age of the buildings, adding that there may be hidden costs associated with renovating the facilities once construction begins, like asbestos abatement, mold and even rot.
Still, he said the town must look at all options and gather input from community members before making any final decision.
“Everything has to be looked at, and at the end of the day, we have to do what’s best for our community and what’s best for the people of Rotterdam,” Christou said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.