It's down to the facade

Legislators leave option open as they prepare to solicit contractors for government center renovation

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  • This view of the new building shows it faced with new gray brick, as proposed by Clark, Patterson Lee, which also offered the option of using original Rudolph stone (Illustration:

  • This rendering shows the glass passageway that would connect the old and new buildings (Illustration:

  • This view is from Main Street in the Village of Goshen (Illustration:

  • (Illustration:

  • This rendering shows what the new atrium would look like (Illustration:

  • An interior view showing a tourism desk on the left and community room on the right (Illustration:

By Edie Johnson

— Paul Rudolph's facade — whether to keep it, remove it, replace it, hide it, clean it, seal it, fumigate it, insulate it, or some other option — was the subject of a four-hour joint meeting of two legislative committees on Monday.

Rudolph is the famous architect who in the 1960s designed the Orange County Government Center. Poised for a renovation that includes partial demolition, the building is the subject of much anguished debate by Rudolph lovers around the world.

Legislators decided to separate the facade from other parts of the project when asking contractors for bids, a process expected to begin next week. The facade gives the building the iconic Rudolph look adored by some and deplored by others. If, ultimately, it's left alone, the Rudolph building may yet survive mostly unscathed, with a glass passageway connecting the two buildings.

On Monday, Phil Clark of the architectural firm Clark, Patterson Lee showed the Building and Physical Services Committees his firm's latest design sketches, in which the Rudolph building sits next to a new building in back of it. He gave two options: one in which the Rudolph facade is removed from the original building and attached to the front of the new one, and one in which the new building is covered with dark gray linking metal plates while the Rudolph facade stays where it is.

Clark said that from a distance of five feet, no one will be able to tell the difference between the new material and the Rudolph stone. "It will look exactly like Rudolph made it 40 years ago," he said.

Few legislators seemed convinced.

Their concerns were threefold: that the facade may not need removal; that the whole renovation project, at $67 million, is overpriced; and that legislators weren't told about changes to the project they had agreed upon.

The question legislators most asked was: Why are we spending so much money to remove the exterior and interior walls when all the experts have told us there's no mold? One mold expert said the air outside the building contained more mold than any part of the building itself.

"The stone is in magnificent condition, with the exception of some stains that need to be cleaned," said Legislator Matt Turnbull (D-Hamptonburgh), who has long worked in construction. Michael Paduch (D-Middletown) agreed. The concrete specialists he talked to said dry ice treatment would both clean and seal the stone.

But Michael Amo (I-Kiryas Joel) said the county should remove the walls to prevent lawsuits over health problems caused by mold.

County Executive Steve Neuhaus agreed. He said Dr. Eli Avila, the county's health commissioner, said it would be prudent to remove the stone.

Myrna Kemnitz (D-Monroe) protested that it was not Dr. Avila's area of expertise.

A glass corridor would connect the buildings, and keep the original Rudolph section separate, but viewable through somewhat opaque glass walls. Similarly, with the interior they said that while stone fascia would have to be removed, cleaned and sealed with added insulation inside the walls, much of it would be replaced, at least in the large public spaces.

'Bait and switch'Many legislators objected to going ahead with the current plan, saying it wasn't the one they voted on. Clark, Patterson Lee has since added a fourth floor to the plan, raising the building's height from 45 to 52 feet. They added square footage, increasing the building's size from 180,000 to 205,000 square feet. And the facade disappeared. Last June, the legislature ordered Clark, Patterson Lee to stop work until lawmakers better understood the changes.

"It's like a bait and switch," said Jeff Berkman (D-Middletown). "We wanted to use this time to scale back the project and save money."

Clark admitted the process was flawed and offered his reasons: He'd been at a disadvantage because bad weather cancelled some meetings. Legislators were arguing too much. Too many parties were involved.

He finally explained the surprising disappearance of UMass DesignLabs and JMZ Construction, two firms that contributed to the design plan approved by legislators. Clark said it was because they had not been paid during delays. Their credit had extended as far as possible, and they were running out of money, he said. Clark said he twice asked both teams to come back but was unsuccessful.

He said many of the design changes never got to the legislature because his office was communicating directly with the county's Department of Public Works. He said he needed to increase the square footage because his original design was based on wrong numbers, which did not include corridors and some office and storage space.

County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Legislative Chair Steve Brescia said most decisions about the project should now be left to the experts — that is, the Department of Public Works and Clark, Patterson Lee — since the money has already been appropriated. The six different architects and engineers working on the project complicated the process, they said, and every new change costs more money,

Berkman (D-Middletown) and others disagreed. "It's hard for us to buy into a process from which we have been excluded," Berkman said.

Roseanne Sullivan (D-Wallkill) was even more dissatisfied. She said the proposal to sell the government center for use as an arts center while building a new government complex had not been considered fairly. Neuhaus said he met with Gene Kaufman, the architect who made the proposal.

"I think he's a nice guy and means well," he said. "But this county has home rule and I'm not about to challenge what the village wants."

The Village of Goshen supports getting the government center back up and running quickly for the sake of its downtown businesses, eager to get their county worker customers back. The Town of Goshen also supports renovation as in "the best interests of the town."

Democratic Caucus leader Chris Eachus asked that the DPW meet with the caucus before the Building Committee meets in March.

The supermajority vote needed to override Neuhaus' veto and allow sale of the buildings is unlikely. The full legislature meeting next week would be the deadline for that override.

Related story: "Village: 'Two-building solution' doesn't exist"

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