Government center suit dismissed

Judge rules in favor of county, allowing demolition to continue: Attorney vows to appeal


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  • A worker removes a piece of Paul Rudolph's famous corduroy block from the facade (Photo by Edie Johnson)




  • A dumpster filled with Paul Rudolph's famous corduroy block, removed from the facade (Photo by Edie Johnson)




  • Big chutes are set up at the government center for asbestos removal (Photo by Edie Johnson)




  • Attorney Michael Sussman discusses Judge Cahill's decision at his Goshen law office this week. (Photo by Edie Johnson)



Government center timeline

August 2010 — County Executive Edward Diana pitches a new idea: raze the government center and build a new one for $114.5 million.
October 2011 — The legislature agrees to spend $200,000 for a design and feasibility study for a new government center. The current center is put on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list.
January 2011 — The legislature sends out requests for proposals while debating whether to renovate the government center or tear it down and build anew. Diana says renovating the building would cost between $72 to $75 million.
August 2011 — Hurricane Irene strikes, inundating the center, which is in a flood plain. Diana closes the center indefinitely and redoubles his efforts to build a new center.
February 2012 — Taxpayers of Orange County, the Democratic Alliance, and Change Orange schedule forums opposed to razing the center. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says the county had vastly overestimated the damage from Irene and offers a tiny fraction of Diana’s $10 million estimate. Diana does not make public the FEMA report, which is uncovered by The Times Herald-Record three months later.
March 2012 — Diana proposes scaled-back plans for a new center, at a cost of $75 million. He says the county’s triple AAA bond rating allows the county to take on $2.8 billion in debt.
April 2012 — Architects working on a Paul Rudolph building in Dartmouth, Mass., visited Orange County to share their knowledge.
May 2012 — Legislators are shocked to discover that Diana suppressed the FEMA report and wonder if he did so because it undermined his rationale for building a new center. They agree 12-9 to keep the government center, and agree unanimously to launch an investigation. Meanwhile, two Republican town supervisors, Steve Neuhaus of Chester and Michael Sweeton of Warwick, announce that they’ll be challenging Diana in a primary, with Neuhaus questioning Diana’s truthfulness. The Democratic Caucus demands that Diana give legislators the keys to the government center so that they can see the hurricane damage for themselves. They don’t gain access until August.
June 2012 — The New York State Unified Court System demands that the county take immediate action to restore courtrooms, closed after the flood, or face “significant fines.”
July 2012 — FEMA agrees to give the county $3.6 million to repair flood damage, less than Diana’s original $10 million estimate but more than FEMA’s original $505,290 offer.
February 2013 — Legislators agree 15-6 to spend $10 million to renovate the center.
May 2013 — Work on the center is delayed. Michael Pillmeier, chair of the Physical Services Committee, said contractors asked for 30 more days to work on plans for the “possible partial or complete removal of Building #2.” This opens up can of worms: the Request for Proposals to engineers was specifically for renovation, not new construction. Legislator Mike Anagnostakis asks whether the request is even legal, given that the legislature had decided to renovate and not build. The attorney for the executive branch, Dave Darwin, says: “That depends on how you construe the words ‘construction’ and ‘reconstruction.’”
June 2013 — A furious Kyle Roddey, mayor of the Village of Goshen, which has seen a fall-off of business since the center closed, objects to further delays and demands that legislators make a decision about the fate of the government center by the end of June.
July 2013 — The Goshen Chamber of Commerce in desperation asks Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) to intercede with the legislature on Goshen’s behalf.
August 2013 — Mayor Roddey holds a press conference demanding that candidates for county office take “The Orange Oath,” a vow to end partisan fighting and support the majority’s decision — whether to renovate, rebuild, or a combination.
September 2013 — Prominent architects and art critics come to Goshen to plead with residents and officials to save what they consider to be a world treasure.
November 2013 — Neuhaus is elected county executive.
December 2013 — Architects present two design options, one to cost $63 million and the other $67 million. Legislators settle on a design that would demolish one of three buildings and add new construction.
February 2014 — Legislator Leigh Benton, who chaired the committee overseeing the project, resigns from his new job with Clark, Patterson Lee (CPL), the chief architectural firm his committee hired for the project, after an outcry from officials and residents who called it a conflict of interest and ethical lapse. Benton was made to pay a fine — although he continued to serve on the building committee. In May, an Orange County Grand Jury found that Benton hadn't acted wisely but had committed no crime.
April 2014 — Clark, Patterson Lee presents more design options, with the price tag now at $67 million.
May 2014 — Renovation costs go up again, with work on all county buildings estimated at $85 million. Three county buildings in Goshen will get $9.5 million in upgrades.
June 2014 — The State Historic Preservation Office objects to CPL’s design, which threatens to derail a $3.6 million FEMA grant that would have helped pay for the renovation, now estimated at $74 million. Legislators ask CPL’s architects: How on earth could this have happened? The county never registered the building as historic, but the state says the building will be subject to preservation standards because it was designed by Paul Rudolph. Gene Kaufman, a New York City architect, offers to buy the government center for $5 million and convert it into a complex of artists’ studios, residences, and galleries.
July 2014 — FEMA says the county can use most of its storm damage money — 60 percent — on another “public good,” as long as it’s spent by Sept. 2015.
September 2014 — Legislators discuss selling the government center to Kaufman and building a new center.
October 2014 — Lawmakers agree to send out requests for proposals for sale of the government center, requiring a minimum bid of $4.5 million.
November 2014 — The fate of the government center is once again cast in limbo after the architectural firm Design Labs quit its association with CPL, which continued to be paid for work while legislators debated selling the building off. Outraged legislators said CPL should get no further payments.
December 2014 — Expanded design plans presented to the legislature come with a $64 million price tag and an estimated completion date of summer 2017. Most of those who spoke at a public hearing on whether to sell the center or renovate it said they preferred Kaufman’s arts center idea.
January 2015 — The county begins soliciting bids from contractors interested in knocking down a portion of the government center. The Hudson Trades Council holds a press conference urging officials to speed up their decision about the center’s fate. Renovation begins on the 1841 Courthouse in Goshen.
February 2015 — Legislators debate what to do about Rudolph’s iconic stone block facade.
March 2015 — Goshen attorney Michael Sussman sues the county on behalf of three plaintiffs to stop the renovation, saying collusion between elected officials and contractors is running up a huge tab that amounts to “profound public waste.” Democrats in the legislature try unsuccessfully to stop the demolition of two sections and to fire CPL. Neuhaus signals his willingness to continue negotiations on how much of the government center to demolish. The building committee makes decisions about wall tile and floor treatments, and say they want to preserve as many Rudolph elements as possible.
April 2015 — The county prepares a construction site at the center, permitted by State Supreme Court as long as no outright demolition work is done until the court makes its decision in the Sussman case.
May 2015 — The legislature accepts the project’s revised environmental review, which had to be updated because the project had changed so much since it was first drafted.
June 2015 — The county reports that half the work to remove asbestos is already completed. Ulster County State Supreme Court decides that renovation work may continue as planned. Sussman plans to appeal. The project’s costs are now estimated at $77 million.


By Edie Johnson and Nathan Mayberg

A judge has ruled against a group of Orange County residents who sought to block the $77 million demolition and reconstruction of the county government center in Goshen.

Ulster County State Supreme Court Judge Christopher Cahill ruled in favor of Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who is pushing ahead with the center overhaul. Demolition is expected to begin on July 1, although the iconic stone put in place by the building's original architect, Paul Rudolph, is already filling dumpsters at the site.

Attorney Michael Sussman sued to stop the demolition on behalf of residents Stephan Brander, Frank Carbone and Vincent Ferri. They argued that county officials and contractors colluded to drive up costs, and that the project is a serious waste of tax money that should be devoted to other projects. They also contend the county never followed through with a proper environmental review of the project, which lies in a flood plain.

Sussman has already filed an appeal and an emergency stop-order request at the Appellate Courthouse in Brooklyn. But advocates for saving the famous building, which has been on the World Monuments Fund watch list since 2011, fear that by the time the court reviews the request, little of the building will be left to save. Jackhammers have been slamming into the roof all week. Workers are tossing materials from the roof into dumpstera. Some windows have been removed. This work is presumably limited to removing asbestos, which the county was allowed to start while waiting for the judge's decision.

Justin Rodriguez, spokesperson for the county executive, said Appellate Division Judge Joseph Maltese rejected a temporary restraining order request by Sussman on Tuesday that would have blocked the work the project while Sussman appeals the Cahill decision.

Sussman has appealed the Maltese decision, to which the county will respond this week, Rodriguez said.

That appeal is set to be heard next week, Rodriguez said.

A political football since 2010

The government was a political football even since the previous county executive, Edward Diana, advocated tearing it down. He closed it in 2011 under controversial circumstances.

The current executive, Steve Neuhaus, called the judge's decision "a win."

“I’m very pleased that not one argument put forward by the plaintiffs was upheld," he said in a statement. "We can now get back to doing the public’s business and return a functioning government center to Goshen. It is my hope that this delay will not impact the bid prices. Anybody from the private sector can understand that legal uncertainty can impact costs. It is disappointing that the Democratic Alliance leadership brought this action, but I hope now that we can back to business for the taxpayers of Orange County.”

In his decision, Cahill called the plaintiffs' allegations "bald conclusory statements of misrepresentations, conspiracy, collusion and malfeasance insufficient to demonstrate the requisite fraud, collusion or malfeasance in either the voting or the resolutions adopted by the Legislature or in the actions taken by defendant Neuhaus."

He said the objection to Legislator Leigh Benton's ethical violation was insufficient because Benton wasn't removed from office. Benton briefly took a job with Clark, Patterson Lee, the architecture and engineering firm in charge of the project, while he chaired the committee that hire firm.

Cahill was appointed to the case after all Orange County judges recused themselves. The renovation plan includes new courtrooms.

The judge dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety.

Sussman said, "I don't view these setbacks as anything other than momentary."

Rodriguez said demolition and reconstruction is expected to begin next week, with Holt Construction managing the project.




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