By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COEYMANS — The town council held an informal public hearing July 27 to gauge the community’s position on repairing the town hall building, but only a handful of residents turned out.
The town council last year voted to construct a new town hall at a maximum cost of $7 million, but after a petition forced a public referendum, voters rejected the project in November.
The building has had problems with dampness, mold and water infiltration, and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Office of Court Administration requirements, town officials said.
After the voters rejected building a new town hall, the town rented space on Mountain Road Extension, in a building owned by local businessman Robert Nolan, for some town personnel, and moved the police department — which had previously been housed in the town hall’s basement, where the worst of the mold problems are — up to the first floor.
Now, the town council is trying to decide what to do with the structure and held an informal public hearing last Thursday.
“We call this an ‘informal’ hearing because it’s not mandated by law that we have this hearing, however, the town board felt it was wise and prudent to have such a hearing so that we can get input from the residents on exactly how your money is going to be spent fixing this building,” Town Supervisor George McHugh said. “It’s a substantial amount of money and that is why we are holding this hearing.”
The estimated cost to repair the current town hall comes to around $1 million.
Christopher Dooley, from the town’s engineering firm MJ Engineering, gave a summary of what a study of the building found and what repairs would entail.
“A study, not by MJ but by a different environmental firm, did some mold testing and found there were levels of mold and air quality issues,” Dooley said. “As part of our work, we came in to investigate that. There had been previous reports of dampness, of water infiltration into the basement of town hall. Through our investigation we did test pits as well as did a study of the actual foundation and the basement. We had some of the existing finishes taken off so we could see the masonry walls as well as did a selective six test pits around the foundation, particularly on the front and this side of the building.”
The engineering firm determined that the foundation wall was in “pretty good shape,” but there are problems in the structure.
“There were drainage issues and there was some water in and around the foundation, which was probably seeping in through the mortar joints,” Dooley said. “Not a lot, but there was some in there, which was causing dampness.”
The study also found there are air quality issues due to the HVAC — heating, ventilation, air conditioning — system in the basement.
MJ Engineering came up with a series of recommended repairs to get the building up to par.
“That recommendation for those repairs was to excavate around the two sides of the building, the front and this side of the building, to waterproof the foundation to prevent any more water and condensation from getting inside the building and also put drainage measures in to allow us to take water away and prevent any additional infiltration into the basement,” Dooley said.
“The cost of that is approximately half a million dollars for the waterproofing and the drainage, with the potential that in order to do the drainage and to get it to either side of the staircase, we would probably have to do a staircase replacement as well as part of that.”
Repairs to the areas of the basement that were damaged due to mold and water infiltration would also be needed, which would amount to an additional half million dollars, Dooley added.
“So you are talking about a million dollars to waterproof this and remediate the mold issue and the HVAC issues in our basement,” McHugh said. “That doesn’t grow this building, it doesn’t renovate it. It puts a new set of stairs on, but other than that, that’s all it does. It doesn’t increase the size or make it any more functional. It will not make it ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliant.”
The project would also not make the courtroom compliant with requirements by the Office of Court Administration, Dooley added.
The first speaker during the public comment segment was resident Barbara Tanner.
“Can this be put to bid again or to the public again? The new town hall?” Tanner asked.
McHugh said building a new town hall could be put to a vote again but was already rejected once.
Tanner responded that it was voted on before the public was aware of the cost to repair the existing building.
“It was voted down before we knew how much it was going to cost to fix in the first place,” Tanner said.
Resident William Stewart asked if there is asbestos in the building, which would have to be removed — at an additional cost — before work can begin. Dooley said the building has not yet been tested for asbestos.
Stewart said the cost is high but will not be going down.
“My opinion is, I know the money is a lot. We all know that. We all know, too, that we’re renting a facility over at Nolan’s,” Stewart said. “If we’re going to do something, fix it and then bring the people back, people ought to know that the price is not going down.”
Town Councilwoman Marisa Tutay said the town should also be aware that the building is not compliant with regulations.
“The thing they have to remember, too, is that it’s not ADA compliant and it’s not court compliant,” Tutay said.
Stewart voiced concerns about the possibility of finding asbestos in the building.
“If there is asbestos there that needs to be removed, that is an insane amount of money,” he said. “That’s another cost, but if it’s in the way and you have to remove it, then you have to remove it.”
Keith Geraldsen, the town’s chief sewer treatment plant operator, said he would like to see a new town hall but in a different location — the building where the Albany County Sheriff’s substation is currently located.
“The problem with that is that there’s very little parking and we don’t own a lot of that property,” McHugh said.
Geraldsen agreed the site is small, “but it’s an option.”
No other residents spoke on the issue.
McHugh said the town council will likely hold several more discussions before deciding on a course of action.
“We will have several meetings and public hearings as we progress,” McHugh said. “You hear the numbers — they’re big-ticket numbers, but probably at the next meeting myself and the engineers will look at certain courses of action and propose them to the town board for action.”