This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, June 19 2008 edition
I could be wrong, but I sense that members of the Woodstock town board, three in particular, are going to lay down their darts and attend to the business they were elected to conduct. Needs of the people are ever changing, but what remains constant is their wish to see governmental operations executed in effective and efficient manner. With the pointless squabbling about “rules of order” and who gets to set the agenda for public meetings now resolved by the peaceable, if radical solution to simply treat one another with respect, perhaps an environment for constructive dialogue is now for them (and us!) to enjoy.
Among the discussions we can expect is the matter of the town hall. Shortly before the expiration of the term of the last administration the town board was given the authority by referendum to spend approximately 1.6 million dollars to renovate the current town hall building on Tinker Street. The plan would “green” the facility by implementing the most energy efficient building materials and techniques, and heat and cool it using geo-thermal wells. In addition space from the old firehouse portion of the building would be used to increase the floor space of the police department and emergency dispatch. The justice court facility would also get additional space, and the large meeting room would see amenities to make it more suitable for community groups and theater productions.
Sadly, the bids for the project came in higher than the authorized expenditure. This in itself is not an unusual occurrence, and the Town has several options, among them abandoning the project, paring back the scope of the work to stay within the authorized expenditure, or seeking higher expenditure authorization through permissive referendum. Each of these three options alone is worthy of considerable discussion.
There has presented itself, however, an entirely new prospect; the recent availability of the Elna Ferrite facility located almost halfway between the Company Five rescue squad facility and the new Company One firehouse on the Bearsville Flats. Many people still remember the Elna Ferrite building as housing Woodstock’s only bowling alley. In the 1990’s the Town created a special light industrial zoning district, which permitted Elna Ferrite to conduct a manufacturing business. The business is moving and the structure is up for sale for somewhere around a million dollars. The metal building by all accounts is in excellent shape, although this does not mean its consumption of energy to heat and cool it is the most efficient.
The building offers some clear advantages, among them plenty of space for all the Town departments and ample parking. It could be a town hall in every sense of the word, where one can report to the police, pay a fine to the justice court, complain to the town supervisor, get a free parking sticker from the town clerk, yell at the assessor, crab at the building inspector and give another pint of blood to the planning board all on one floor and all in one visit. Among the minuses, it will cost about a million or so to purchase, additional money will have to be spent on some re-modeling and perhaps to implement energy efficient heating and cooling technology, and presumably the zoning would have to be changed from special light industrial, or the zoning law amended to include governmental uses in special light industrial districts.
The thorniest issue may be the final disposition of the existing town hall building, a Greek Revival structure built in the 1930’s for which many have a fond and sentimental regard. Strictly from a taxpayer’s view one may hope the building would be sold and put on the tax rolls to help offset the cost of purchasing Elna Ferrite and seeing it taken off the tax rolls. But we can expect an onslaught of not-for-profits advancing their respective, worthy institution as the proper recipient of the building free, and free of taxes, in return for providing to the community some cultural element or another. Mark my words.
Another issue to consider, if the present town hall is conveyed to a non-governmental entity, is an accommodation with New York State Energy Development Agency (NYSERDA) with regard to the $90,000 it contributed to the $120,000 photo-voltaic installation on the building. Whether it would be a reimbursement to NYSERDA, or re-installation of the system on the Elna Ferrite building is not an escapable or inexpensive decision.
And then there is the potential provocation of moving all the local government offices to one mile west of the “cultural/civic/ceremonial nexus (the Woodstock Hamlet) for all other parts of the community” in contradiction to the (useless although not to everybody) draft comprehensive plan.
All the above questions, of course, are to be debated in front of the Crank Observer, who asks, Why is any of this necessary; things seem to be moving along okay as they are?
My opinion? First, I think it makes Woodstockers sick to own buildings that treat BTUs with the same respect shown employees of the Emperor’s Club. It is just too expensive and disrespectful to the planet. So “hush” I say to the Crank Observer. Second, I think renovating the existing town hall despite its dearth of immediate parking and possible additional expense is still a serious and reasonable proposal. Third, to not thoroughly investigate the possibilities of the Elna Ferrite building, with the concomitant decision of how to dispose of the existing town hall building would be irresponsible.
So I say to the town board, make us proud by conducting an open, reasoned discussion. To expect a total lack of emotion from you is unreasonable, because after all, the old town hall is a sentimental treasure to many of us. But please, no howling, no accusations, no filibustering, no baloney. Come up with a reasonable proposal, and if you need authorization, seek it. Whether the taxpayers give or refuse, they will like having been asked, especially if asked after a measured and respectful discussion.