Will it be demolition or makeover for county government center?

| 22 Feb 2012 | 04:27

Many see hulking maze; a few see brilliance, By Edie Johnson Goshen - Even as plans go forward for a new county government center, historians and architects are fighting to save what they say is an important historic building from demolition. Few legislators supported the option of restoring the old building at meetings this fall, but they have yet to rule it out. Lawmakers approved $200,000 to conduct the design and feasibility study for a new government center in October, with the caveat that bids should include a second look at the possibility of a makeover. Requests for proposals will be sent out this week. A new building is expected to cost up to $114 million and increase space for government offices from 250,000 to 308,000 square feet. Renovating the old one would cost between $72 to $75 million, according to County Executive Edward Diana, who has commissioned two studies to consider its restoration. Ardent Rudolph admirers oppose demolition When Paul Rudolph designed the concrete Lego-land in the early sixties, he was a young giant in the world of architecture. The building not only ushered in a fledgling architectural style that has come to be known as Brutalism, but also marked a new form of government for the county, which had previously been led by a group of town supervisors, and would now be headed by a county executive. A growing network of local and regional artists, historians and architects not only believes the building should be saved, but that it should attain landmark status. “When I moved to Warwick I became aware of this building and visited it often,” said Mary Hull Keaning, an Orange County painter and the driving force behind the movement to save the building. “When my friends come to visit me I always make sure they see the Rudolph building.” Keaning’s brother Richard Hull, Warwick town historian and professor of history and civilization at NYU, laments that the government center, like other buildings of the era, has been caught in a downward spiral of neglect and ensuing disapproval. He compares it to the Eiffel Tower, considered grotesque upon its completion, and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, nearly torn down because it was drafty and was outdated. “People said wait a sec, that building represents a new departure in governance. That was where the republic of the United States was born. It was saved, and now everyone’s very proud of it,” Hull said. The cost of tearing down a building made of poured concrete would be “staggering,” said Hull. Demolition alone is estimated at over $3.2 million, according to the county legislature’s report. “When you take it down, what do you do with massive blocks of concrete?” asked Hull. The sheer cost of demolition was what saved Rudolph’s signature building, the Yale School of Art and Architecture. It was retrofitted in 2008 because it would have cost too much to knock it down, according to Robert Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Re-named Rudolph Hall and back in fashion, the Yale building clearly shows what a good $126 million cleaning and renovation can do, but at a price probably not within this county’s budget. The case for a new building While our county building’s history may be laudable, its present state could more appropriately be called deplorable, according to Diana. The county executive cited the massive expenditures that have already been poured into keeping the structure usable. “The rooftops started leaking just months after the building was finished, and never stopped,” he said. “I want the people to know that I’m not encouraging this [new building] because of [the old building’s] looks,” he said. “That would be totally irresponsible. But it’s a maintenance nightmare. It is so cost ineffective. It costs $650,000 a year to heat and air condition the space… It has windows the size of walls that are all single-paned, and leak a tremendous amount of air.” Diana has met twice with architects who worked on the renovation of Yale’s Rudolph Hall, and commissioned two studies to consider its renovation, he said. Diana ticked off reasons a new building makes sense: It would centralize a county government currently spread out all over Goshen, Middletown and even Florida. The construction of the building would create jobs. With more usable square footage, the new building would provide additional office jobs for local residents. The new two-story garage would alleviate the current parking shortage. Utility costs would be halved. A significant portion of the required finances could come from five auxiliary buildings that would no longer be necessary and which would provide additional property tax income in the future. Mold has infiltrated the walls of the old building and is creating both a health hazard and legal liability for the county. While efforts have already been made to make the government center more accessible, it still has numerous handicapped compliance issues, as well as costly fire protection and sprinkler upgrades. The county’s eight recent construction projects, including the county jail, the 9/11 center, Thomas Bull Memorial Park, and BOCES and SUNY extensions, have all been under budget and on time. In this economy the county has an unprecedented opportunity to borrow at low rates. Diana estimates a new county government would cost residents about $25 per year over the next decade. NYSERDA energy and other grants will be explored for funding. While critics of the first rendering of a new design say it has most of the same flaws as the existing one, namely too many windows and a flat rooftop, Diana told said that it was a very preliminary design, hastily put together, and that legislators will have many options from which to choose. Jury is out The jury has until 2013 to deliberate on the future of the polemical government building. That’s when demolition is slated to begin. In the meantime, the building’s champions are in touch with Hoffman Architects, one of the firms that renovated the Yale building. They await the firm’s proposal for a full interior and exterior renovation. In the end, said Diana, while it is his responsibility to present the options, “the decision will be up to the legislature, and the people.”

The wrecking ball looms
Architecture giant Paul Rudolph used poured concrete as his primary building material because it was economical and durable. But will Orange County’s government center stand the test of time?
While many architects and critics revere Rudolph’s Brutalist style, it fell out of favor with the American public during the 1970s. Rudolph moved overseas, earning a huge international following for massive buildings in the Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Singapore, but by the time of his death in 1997, Rudolph was all but forgotten in his home country.
Prolific though he was, Rudolph’s public buildings are becoming scarce as one after the other meets a wrecking ball. A few, like Yale’s Rudolph Hall, have escaped that fate. The Paul Rudolph Web site describes our government building as one of the most select of his works.
“The people of Goshen have yet to realize what they have in their backyard,” say the critics at arbitat.com.
On Facebook, the county building facade has 173,984 “like” hits. But “likes” never stopped a wrecking ball.

A sampling of work done on the County Government Center in the last 10 years:
Two heating, ventilating and air conditioning shafts: $3,500
Federal sewage ejection: Pumps 16,894.68 Labor $5.000
Federal boiler sump pumps: $6,213
Two non working well pumps replaced, for HVAC use: $27,280
Pneumatic retrofit: $95,000
Coil replacement: $13,000
A/C coils: $80,000
Emergency generator worked on twice and generator rented twice: $6,000
Header pipe on AC increased: $10,000
Both boilers re-tubed: $7,500
Handicap entrance done at main entrance: $4,500
Handicap lift by the finance department: $10,000
Squirrel cage on AC repaired and balanced:$4,500
Transformer installed: $5,800
Alarms added and door swipes added: $45,000
Chiller 2 motor starter: $8,500
Total: Approximately $350,000 (includes items not on this list)
Source: County Executive Edward Diana