Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Contemplating Another Move

In 1962, City Hall moved from 327 Warren Street, the building that was constructed to be Hudson's city hall in 1855, to 520 Warren Street, a building that was constructed to be a bank in 1907. It's not entirely clear what motivated the move in 1962. It happened during an era when, hindsight tells us, the City made a few bad decisions--the demolition of the General Worth Hotel and an urban renewal project that razed and re-imagined more than fifty acres of the city to name two. Although, more than five decades later, we may not fully understand the reason for the move up the street, we do know the impact. In the words of one critic, "Downtown Hudson was sold down the river." The "business district" became concentrated in the 500 and 600 blocks of Warren Street, and the areas below Fifth Street became abandoned and unwelcoming. It took decades to reverse that. Ironically, the rebirth of 327 Warren Street, abandoned as City Hall but reclaimed thirty years later as the Hudson Opera House, was the principal engine of the revival.

Now once again, some city leaders are contemplating moving City Hall, this time to a building that was constructed to be a school (and a fallout shelter) in 1964. There are at least two stated reasons for considering the move: the current City Hall is not ADA compliant; the Youth Center needs a better facility. The asking price for the school is just under $4 million. The thinking is that if City Hall, the Youth Department, the Day Care Center, and the Code Enforcement Office all moved to the former school building, the City could sell 520 Warren Street, 18 South Third Street, 10 Warren Street, and 429 Warren to finance the acquisition and upgrading required "so it doesn't feel like a school building." Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann is pushing for the move to JLE to include the Chamber of Commerce and the offices of HDC and HCDPA and the sale of 1 North Front Street.

520 Warren Street
18 South Third Street
10 Warren Street
429 Warren Street
1 North Front Street
At a public forum last night, Mark Thaler of the architectural firm Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson presented the results of the feasibility study for converting what was an elementary school into the "Hudson Civic Center." The entire PowerPoint presentation from last night's forum can be viewed here.

There are two proposals: Scheme A and Scheme B. Scheme B is more expensive (although actual costs will not be revealed until October 15, when Thaler makes a presentation to the Common Council) and involves, among other things, installing a second elevator and introducing a central lobby with a deck overlooking the wooded area behind the building.

The floor plans for every one of the four levels of the building, except the top one (shown below) where all city offices and the Common Council meeting rooms will be located, seem to have a vast amount of space labeled "Future Tenant Space."

Discussing the potential uses for this space, Thaler spoke of maker space, a job center, community event and meeting space, apprenticeship training, creative arts, a wood shop, a teaching kitchen, a community kitchen, after-school programs, family services, more day care--all programming that doesn't seem to exist yet. He did acknowledge that the City would need someone whose job it would be to manage all the spaces that would be rented out for events or on a long-term basis.

During the public comment, Matthew Frederick raised an issue that should be of concern to all Hudsonians. Observing that "a building has to serve many masters," he commented, "This is a city hall and needs to present itself as a city hall." He went on to make the point that this would be "a public building looking at the back of a private building"--the private building being the historic 400 State Street, now owned by the Galvan Foundation. He asserted that though the current City Hall was a re-purposed bank building, it had a "sense of propriety." It was a building whose design and presence were appropriate to its role as the seat of city government. Of the proposal for JLE, Frederick said, "It feels like we have space-planned this, but it doesn't feel like City Hall." He posited that "City Hall is a matter of civic pride."

In response, Thaler talked about possible alterations to the facade, raising the ceiling over the space proposed for the Council Chamber, and "monument signs" at the entrances on State Street and Carroll Street, but it is unlikely that a 1960s elementary school building is ever going to present itself as a city hall, particularly not when city government offices and meeting rooms will have to share the building with a variety of intergenerational recreation and community support uses. 

At the first public forum about the adaptive reuse of JLE, the issue of Columbia County's interest in the building was raised. Fifth Ward supervisor Rick Scalera explained that the County wanted to locate the Probation Department in the building, which was not a good fit with the uses the City envisioned for the building--the Youth Center, the Day Care Center, the Senior Center. It could be said that in the current mix of uses being proposed for the building, City Hall is the odd one out.

Toward the end of the meeting, Council president Tom DePietro used the Google image that was part of the PowerPoint presentation to make the point that JLE was in the geographic center of the city, "more the center of the city than City Hall is."

I was reminded of another abandoned elementary school building, in the geographic center of Columbia County, which was to be the centerpiece of a lavishly researched, vigorously promoted, and passionately protested plan to develop a county campus six miles outside of the county seat . . . but that was a decade ago.

1 comment:

  1. He posited that "City Hall is a matter of civic pride." I do not agree with this comment from Mr Frederick. As I said in my other comment ... most of the functions at city hall can be out sourced and done more efficiently... even the garbage bags.