Celebrated and reviled, county government center to be replaced

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:36

County officials say new building will reduce costs over long run, provide hundreds of jobs, By Edie Johnson Goshen — Love it or hate it, the Brutalist-style Orange County Government Center in Goshen, the work of one of the country’s the most influential architects, will soon pass into history. County Executive Ed Diana wants to get right to work on a new government center that he says will save money over the long run. It is expected to cost up to $114.5 million and increase space for government offices from 250,000 to 308,000 square feet. Diana said he and his team have spent nearly six months number-crunching to make this project pay for itself — or nearly so. Their analysis shows that the entire complex, which needs to be redone one way or another, would cost only $25 million more to replace than to renovate. Repairs to the old building could cost $75 million or more, and the lack of handicap accessibility and sprinkler system could soon make it code non-compliant. The complex will house all of the county offices now scattered throughout Goshen and Middletown, including those for tourism, health, real property, the water authority, the office for the aging, employment, weights and measures, human rights, social services, the district attorney, mental health, and the county historian, among other off-campus departments. Diana has long complained about the inefficiency of the 1967 building designed by Paul Rudolph. “We have 87 roofs, and every one of them leaks,” he told The New York Times in 2004. “Should the taxpayers be forced to sink money into an inefficient building that doesn’t meet their needs?” The roof has already been replaced twice and is still leaking, Diana said on Tuesday during a presentation before the legislature. Water pools on the roof, drains to the edges, and infiltrates the walls, resulting in mold and poor air quality. Diana ticked off the ways the project makes good economic sense: A new “green” building will cut energy costs by 45 percent, or $321,000 a year. The savings will increase if a solar rooftop and geothermal element are added to the plan. The old building, with its 300 single-paned windows, lacks insulation. The sale of five ancillary county buildings, all in need of repair, will add a few hundred thousand dollars in property tax revenue to the county’s coffers. Building a new complex will employ hundreds of construction workers, who have been hardest hit during the recession. A more efficient building will make county employees more efficient. The county is eligible for low-interest rates. “With its excellent ratings, and interest rates at their lowest in 50 years, the county is sometimes able to obtain loans for less than 2 percent,” said Joel Kleinman, the county commissioner of finance. Other funding may become available, including federal and state grants and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority energy bonuses. What will a new complex cost taxpayers? “Worst case scenario, the project would cost Orange County residents each about $25 per year over the next nine years,” Diana said. ‘Ugly, depressing and disgusting’ The county government center is even more famous for its appearance than for its inefficiency. Diana argued that an attractive new government center will bring the county into the 21st century, leave a legacy for our children, and give Orange County a better image. The current complex is 43 years old and built in a modernist style popular during the ‘60s and ‘70s (please see sidebar). Within a few years the British were making fun of the Brutalist style, calling it “unfriendly, impractical and ugly.” The county executive went even further, calling it “ugly, depressing and disgusting.” Many Orange County residents agree, as did all the legislators at Tuesday’s meeting. Legislator Steve Brescia of Montgomery made the only major objection to the two preliminary sketches. He said they did not reflect the style of Goshen’s historic district, where 19th-century architecture predominates. Diana said the sketch was hastily drawn and will be redone many times over, as they get more feedback. Legislator Mike Anagnostakis of Newburgh said the fiscal analysis needed to be expanded to include other ambitious projects the county will be paying for in the years to come, such as the State University of New York campus still under construction in Newburgh, and the addition of 100,000 square feet for a laboratory and day care center at the Middletown campus. Five phases JMZ Architects & Planners of Glens Falls, N.Y., did the analysis of needs for the project. “In the past they have done seven projects for us, and every one of them was on time and on budget,” Diana said. But because JMZ’s expertise is in schools, the firm will probably not be doing the architectural or engineering work. The project will be implemented in five phases (please see sidebar on page 8). A two-tiered parking facility containing 858 spaces will come first, along the northwest side. It will be built so that another level may be added later. The Administrative and Social Services building at the southern corner will come next, and then the judicial building. The present courthouse will remain. Finally, the public green will be added between the judicial building and courthouse. A large rectangular tree-lined public gathering area, possibly with a water feature in the center, is also planned.

Project Schedule: 2010-2015
December 2010: Select architectural and engineering team. Begin design.
May 2011: Award bids on covered parking deck and parking lot.
December 2011: Complete design of administration and human services building.
January 2012-March 2012: Receive, review and award bids. Complete covered parking deck.
April 2012-June 2013: Construction of administration and human services building.
June 2013-Oct. 2013: Demolition of Division 1.
Oct. 2013-Dec. 2014: Construction of judicial building.
Dec. 2014-April 2015: Demolition of Divisions 2 and 3.
May 2015-Aug. 2015: Construction of connector and commons areas.