Government center may re-open in 2017

Latest design plan is bigger than the last, but will cost about the same

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  • The architect's rendering of the planned government center addition shown to the legislature (Photo by Edie Johnson)

  • A sketch of the site plan (Photo by Edie Johnson)

“We’ve gone from ‘crazy’ to nothing great, but at least it’s better.”
Phil Clark, Clark Patterson Lee

By Edie Johnson

— Renovations to the Orange County Government Center will be completed by the spring or summer of 2017 in the latest design plans presented to the legislature.

That's six years since the flooding from Hurricane Irene caused the building to be closed.

The latest plans are estimated to cost $64 million, and replace the curtain wall planned for the back of the building with a straight-line wall. The state historical society objected to the addition planned for the front, saying it would ruin the original design created in the 1960s by the important American architect Paul Rudolph. Altering the design will also lose federal funding for the project, although some of the promised funds may be used for other purposes. The addition will be confined to the back.

The curtain wall aimed to fix the building's 84 leaky rooftops by raising them to the same level and by adding a fourth story. Many of the design factors that copied the renovation of the Carney Library, a similar Rudolph building at Yale, disappeared along with the DesignLabs architects who had been working with the Clark Patterson Lee team of architects and engineers, and who left abruptly this fall. A public water feature in earlier designs meant to control stormwater is also absent from the new design.

Phil Clark said his group had spent many hours meeting with department heads, judges, and workforce employees to devise an efficient and pleasing floor plan. He described the interior as "a timeless and classy use of public space." The rooftops have been reduced to 34.

"It is still a lot, but it would be too costly to raise the entire surround," Clark said. "We've gone from 'crazy' to nothing great, but at least it's better."

Four levels planned

Plans now call for four stories; an additional courtroom, raising the number to four; and the department of motor vehicles and the county clerk on Level One. The new addition will, for security reasons have one main entrance, with another entrance on the courts' side. A large space on Level One is set aside for property records and other archives.

Level Two will contain the four courtrooms and judges' offices. Level Three will include Finance and Payroll, Human Resources, legislative offices and their chambers, the county executive's office, and the grand jury suite, with a crossing to the court annex building. The district attorney's offices and legal department are on Level Four, along with more offices for department heads and meeting rooms.

The latest "restorative" design puts the additional space needed in the back of the building.

The design is still in the review stage, after being first presented to the legislature's Building Committee on Nov. 23. While it was billed as a scaled-down version of the first two design proposals, the square footage is actually 194,000 — 14,000 square feet more than last year's plan. However, the price remains about the same.

Changes to the parking lot have been minimized to keep within the one-acre disturbance limit. Exceeding that limit would trigger a more extensive state review and greater cost.

Clark said he estimates a very tight 18-month design and construction schedule and a mid-2017 completion date.

If the county uses the FEMA money on alternative projects, it will not get as much: $2.4 million instead of $3.2 million. But the county would then be free of the requirement to preserve the government center's historic elements.

The county also received two responses from potential buyers interested in taking the center off the county's hands.

The county is facing pressure to get the center going again from the Village of Goshen, whose shopkeepers are missing the daily influx of customers among the government workers who once worked in the village.

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