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What you need to know for 08/17/2017

County-owned TrustCo building still vacant

County-owned TrustCo building still vacant

TrustCo’s former headquarters stood dark Tuesday, save for several lights trained on the seven-story
County-owned TrustCo building still vacant
This building at 192 Erie Blvd. is owned by Schenectady County.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

TrustCo’s former headquarters stood dark Tuesday, save for several lights trained on the seven-story building’s parking lot.

Tall snowbanks nearly eclipse several of the ground-floor windows. The front entrance is stripped down, leaving exposed wires visible from the missing tiles of the drop ceiling and giving the building’s interior a derelict appearance.

Once a critical component of a plan to add much needed space for Schenectady County’s court system, the building has remained largely vacant since the Legislature approved its purchase for $2.4 million nearly a decade ago. Plans were once afoot to move workers from the county office building on State Street to the vacant TrustCo building so that the court system — spread among four separate buildings — could be brought into two buildings adjacent to each other.

The plan to utilize the TrustCo building seemed to lose steam when an architectural study revealed the county office building on State Street couldn’t be adequately retrofitted to provide the space needed by the court system. And the future of the hulking 80,000-square-foot Trustco structure set back from Erie Boulevard has remained murky ever since.

County Spokesman Joe McQueen said the building remains an option as a comprehensive plan for the court system is completed over the next couple months. Past incarnations of the plan — mandated by the state Office of Court Administration to alleviate overcrowding — haven’t yet revealed an acceptable way of increasing space for the system without expanding to other buildings in the city.

“TrustCo is space that we have and that’s why we have it,” he said Tuesday. “We don’t know exactly what the plan entails, so that’s why we’re holding on to TrustCo until we know what space is going to be needed.”

Meanwhile, the county is having to cover the cost of upkeep while forgoing any tax revenue that would be accrued if the building were owned privately. It was unclear this week how much the county pays annually to maintain the building, or how much in taxes it could bring back on the rolls.

James Buhrmaster, Republican minority leader of the county Legislature, believes the county has waited long enough to decide a fate for the TrustCo building, He said taxpayers are bearing the brunt of the county’s inaction and that the best plan would be to put the building on the market in short order.

“I think we owe it to the taxpayers to either use it or sell it,” he said.

The county’s court system is desperately cramped for space, even though it’s spread among four buildings throughout the city. The county’s surrogate, family, supreme and criminal courts are split between the courthouse and county office building on State Street, while the city court is split between City Hall and the Schenectady Police Department headquarters on Liberty Street.

In April, a new court facility is expected to be completed in space rented by the county on the second floor of the Schaffer Heights building on Nott Terrace. The retrofitted space will house the state Supreme Court of Schenectady County, plus chambers for three justices, a deliberation room and conference space.

“We’re going to all be in one building with a courtroom, which will be a great enhancement,” said Vito Caruso, administrative judge for the Fourth Judicial District, who resorted to moving his county office to Saratoga Springs due to the crunch for space in the city. “I think it’s going to work great.”

Caruso wasn’t sure how permanent his court’s home at Shaffer Heights will be, but doesn’t view it as a temporary move. He said the discussion about a new court facility has been ongoing for years and he’s not convinced his new digs won’t factor into whatever plan is being devised by the county.

“This particular chambers is going to be a great addition for the short term and it will probably fit into the long term plans, too,” he said.

Legislature Chairman Anthony Jasenski said he and other legislators are now touring all county offices to help determine what space is available and where offices can be potentially moved. He said the TrustCo building’s ultimate fate will be determined by how the county resolves the situation with its courts — a plan that will also require the state’s stamp of approval.

“It is in flux,” he said. “There’s nothing definite right now.”

Ultimately, Jasenski said, holding on to the TrustCo building for a little longer could save money. Though he couldn’t pinpoint the exact upkeep of the building, he said it’s undoubtedly less expensive than constructing a new one.

“Without question,” he said.

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