Legislators try to stop government center demolition

Lawmakers who oppose demolition failed to get enough votes, but county officials offer more time to negotiate

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  • Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus offers the full legislature some more time for negotiations. Also pictured (from left): Mike Anagnostakis, Shannon Wong, Leigh Benton, and in front, James Kulisek andMyrna Kemnitz (Photo by Edie Johnson)

  • Legislator Matt Turnbull rails against the demolition bid (from left): Curlie Dillard, Turnbull, Roseanne Sullivan, Barry Cheney, and Paul Ruskiewicz (Photo by Edie Johnson)

“Its time to take a closer look because if we don’t stop the wrecking ball today, it could come tomorrow. Demolition bids are out until we know what we are demolishing.”
Jeffrey Berkman

By Edie Johnson

— The Orange County executive has signaled that he's willing to continue negotiations on how much of the government center to demolish.

Democrats in the legislature started this month's full session with an effort to stop the demolition of two sections of the center and reduce the scope of the renovation. Demolition is scheduled to begin in about a month. Democratic legislators also tried to fire the architect, Clark, Patterson Lee.

The resolution to stop the demolition failed, with only seven votes. Thirteen Republicans voted to continue with current plans. Legislator James Kulisek (D-Newburgh) abstained because he has a business relationship with the contractor expected to do the demolition.

The legislators who object to the demolition and renovation have lost faith in Clark, Patterson Lee. They also want to give the government center, designed by famous architect Paul Rudolph and treasured the world over, another chance.

And they expressed alarm at how much higher the demolition bids are than the estimates provided by Clark, Patterson Lee. Legislator Matt Turnbull (D-Hamptonburgh) called the discrepancy between the estimated and actual bids "incredibly outrageous, especially on an estimate that is so easily available." He said he's never before seen a bid off by more than 10 percent, much less the 100 percent discrepancy reflected in the demolition bids.

Neuhaus said the county was not yet done negotiating with the low bidder. Of the two bids received, the lower, $7.2 million bid included $1 million for "contingencies." He said the "indecisiveness of the legislature" repelled other bidders from coming forward.

Should Clark, Patterson Lee be fired?

Legislators, pulling no punches, advanced a resolution commanding Neuhaus to "fire Clark, Patterson Lee."

Legislative attorney Antoinette Reed fired back, saying that, legally, they could not "tell" the county executive what to do, but only "urge" or "recommend" that he change course.

Roseanne Sullivan (D-Crawford) asked that the wording be revised.

"County residents, as well as many state and federal groups, are looking to us right now to put a stop to this runaway train," she said.

"Its alarming," said Jeff Berkman (D-Middletown) about the demolition bid. "Clark's work clearly needs more oversight."

He said it was time for lawmakers to take a closer look.

"If we don't stop the wrecking ball today, it could come tomorrow," he said. "Demolition bids are out until we know what we are demolishing."

Berkman listed other objections:

The architect's inability to determine square footage, with 200,000 in current plans, rather than the 180,000 square feet legislators approved.

The architect's plan to remove Rudolph's facade after a county-commissioned study found that the original facade could be restored.

The departure of two architectural firms with experience in restoring Rudolph's work.

Mike Anagnostakis (R-Montgomery) noted that the county has a budget shortfall, even without the renovation, which will likely cost more than $70 million.

"And we sit here acting like nothing is wrong," he said. "The answer is to stop all but absolutely essential spending."

County Attorney Langdon Chapman offered some limited reassurance that although the county is "stuck with the low bidder...we go on from there. We can negotiate anything, only with the low bidder."

Legislative Chair Steve Brescia also offered some support. "The horse is not out of the barn," he said.

While neither resolution passed, legislators were promised that their concerns would be seriously considered over the next two weeks of committee oversight meetings.

Brescia complained about further delays.

"Talk about surprises, we got two consents on the way in," he said of the two votes. "We have to move ahead. Damn it, the employees want a new building."

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