Last night, Mark Thaler and Alex Messina from Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson, the firm that is doing a feasibility study on relocating city offices and various city services to the surplus school building, met with community members to get input about what the 90,000 square foot building might accommodate. What's currently being explored for relocation are all the offices and functions of City Hall, the Code Enforcement Office, the Youth Department, and the Senior Center.
At present, the lowest floor--A Level--is being considered as a new location for the Youth Department. A Level is where the school gym and the girls' and boys' locker rooms were located. B Level--the next level up--was designed to be a fallout shelter. (John L. Edwards was built in 1964, still the Cold War Era.) B Level also contains the mechanicals. C Level is the main floor, which most of us are familiar with. It was proposed that the Senior Center could be relocated there, to occupy what had been the school's offices and the cafeteria. That leaves D Level, what appears to be the second floor when the building is viewed from the State Street side. According to Thaler, "All City Hall functions could fit on that level." It didn't appear that there would be a dedicated Common Council chamber on D Level, so it would seem Council meetings would be held in one of the large multi-function rooms on the main floor--C Level. (What's to become of the Henry Ary portrait of George Washington?) The building currently has one elevator, which was installed in 2003 or 2004.
Sher Stevens, the director of the Senior Center, now located in the Galvan Armory, complained that the space being proposed for the Senior Center in JLE was not enough. She was told that it is more than the Senior Center currently has, but she insisted that much more was needed.
A representative from COARC's Starting Place, which sold its building on Prospect Avenue to Columbia Memorial Health in 2016, said the program is looking for 7,000 square feet of space with a small fenced playground. The program offers both a special education preschool and day care. She said the program served four counties, and they wanted somewhere within walking distance. She also said children from fourteen school districts were in their programs, but the children came primarily from the Hudson City School District. In the spring of 2017, the Planning Board reviewed plans to relocate the COARC Starting Place program to the basement of the Galvan Armory, but that plan apparently was never pursued.
Chad Weckler, representing Hudson-Creative, said his group was looking for 3,000 to 8,000 square feet for a makerspace, which he described as "a community center for learning and mentoring." He reported that a survey the group had done indicated that the "number one request" was for a woodworking shop, followed by a metalworking shop--both "dirty" endeavors that required a space that was vented. Weckler said that space and startup capital was needed, but they had been unable to attract startup capital because they had no space.
Both Weckler and Stevens wanted to know if it would be possible to add on to the building. Thaler reminded them, "We have excess space already, which makes the investigation of expanding the building not critical." Linda Mussmann said there was a "huge need" for a commercial kitchen and wondered if the kitchen in the school could be used for that purpose. Malachi Walker said there should be an outdoor basketball court, and Tiffany Garriga expressed the desire for a swimming pool. Dominic Merante asked if the building could be a shelter if there are power outages in the city, possibly thinking of the recent power outage at Bliss Towers. (Apparently, the building has a huge generator.) Stevens suggested that each program serving children should have its own playground, to which Thaler responded, "It wouldn't be my first choice to have a playground out front." Kamal Johnson noted that a group of Bangladeshi men are now playing cricket in front of the building and said, "We need to provide a place for them."
Nick Zachos said he was excited about the possibility of the Youth Department moving into the building, but instead of a horizontal space, on A Level, he wanted the Youth Department to have a vertical space, from C Level--the main floor--to A Level, where the gymnasium is. It was Zachos who suggested that we "start looking at [the building] as a civic center."
During the course of the meeting, Council president Tom DePietro revealed that the plan to acquire the surplus school building and relocate city offices and services there involved selling several City-owned buildings--to get them back on the tax rolls. Those buildings are 520 Warren Street (City Hall), 429 Warren Street (Code Enforcement Office), 10 Warren Street (Hudson Day Care Center), 18 South Third Street (Youth Center), and 1 North Front Street (Chamber of Commerce).
Regarding the sale of 18 South Third Street, former mayor Rick Scalera noted that there were constraints on the sale of the building. When the City took the building over from the Boys and Girls Club early in this century, it was agreed the building could only be sold to another entity that provided youth services--which limits the potential buyers and likely eliminates the possibility of getting the building back on the tax rolls.
When someone asked what the adaptive reuse of the school would cost, Thaler replied, "Move into a school, and it looks like a school," before explaining that the estimated costs, which will be part of the completed feasibility study, will have to be a range--from having a building that still looks like a school to one whose interior design is suited to its new uses. On the topic of cost, Scalera observed that a building of that size represented "a huge amount of utility costs" and asked, "Who is going to pay for that?" DePietro said that part of the feasibility study involved looking at ways to make the building more energy efficient. Later, Zachos said he could not imagine "how all these functions now in drafty old brick buildings would not be saving money in this newer building."
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