I would like to explain for those who were unable to attend our recent meetings why the Town of Busti board has decided to move the town offices to the former Tordella's Building at 125 Chautauqua Avenue, next door to our current offices.
The Town has three long-standing problems that need to be addressed. The first, and biggest, is that our Justice Court facility is inadequate. It is located on the second floor of the Village building on Summit Avenue and accessible only by a narrow stairway, which means it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are no chambers for the judges, no attorney-client conference rooms, no separate entrance for prisoners, no prisoner holding rooms, and no place to store court records.
The second problem is that the quonset hut building used for the Busti-Lakewood Recreation Center is no longer financially viable. Winter gas bills for the building reach $1,000 per month. The roof leaks, it's drafty, it's at the end of its useful life and not worth the additional investment of taxpayer's money for band-aid solutions.
Finally, and, admittedly, not as pressing as the other problems, the current town building at 121 Chautauqua Avenue is not an ideal space for town offices. It has served the Town well for decades but it clearly is best used as a bank, its original purpose.
The Town Board has looked at a number of solutions to these problems. Could we build a new facility elsewhere? Could we renovate empty space and/or add to the Village building? Could we demolish the Recreation Center and build a new facility in its place on Summit Avenue?
A new facility would require the Town to take on significant debt. Renovating or adding to the Village building would cost more than $150 per square foot, depending on the configuration and location of the new space. Demolishing the Recereation Center would require changing a deed restriction on that site and, if that could be accomplished, would cost about $160 per square foot for new construction.
In recent months the Town has been approached by a local credit union, whose lease on its current location is expiring. It would like to be located in the Chautauqua Avenue business district and has offered the Town $300,000 for our current building. The credit union is under some urgency to move and the offer is not open-ended, so a decision must be made soon.
The empty Tordella's building at 125 Chautauqua Avenue is available for purchase for approximately $330,000. This building has 11,500 square feet, so has ample space for all the facilities we need. A conservative estimate to renovate this space is $250,000, or around $51 per square foot. We believe the work actually can be done for less, by using town forces for some of the work, for example, which could not be done for new construction. All of the costs beyond the $300,000 received from the sale of the current building could be paid for by surplus funds and grants that we are assured would be available, including, for example, a $30,000 grant from the court system for the courtroom. This new facility would be more energy efficient than the current buildings so the Town would spend less on utiltiies each month. Also, there is an existing tenant in the rear of the building that would pay approximately $900 per month in rent.
Other benefits of this option include consolidating two Town buildings into a single space, giving a net increase to the assessment roll once 121 Chautauqua Avenue goes back to private ownership, attracting significant business traffic to the new credit union that would benefit all businesses on the street, and providing the Town with an accessible court facility, a nice recreation center, and better town offices-all with no impact on our tax levy.
We have heard from some Town residents that they would like the Town and Village of Lakewood to consolidate services, and we agree. That's why over the years the Town and Village have worked to create a single police department, a single justice court, a joint assessor, and great cooperation between our highway departments. We are working towards having a joint code enforcement officer as soon as this summer.
But it must be said that moving two separate entities into a single building is not consolidation. It doesn't reduce the number of government employees. It doesn't reduce costs. It merely adds another tenant to the Village building. And it would require the Town to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a building it does not own.
The Town does not plan to build a Taj Mahal at the Tordella's building. It will be a nice, functional space. Nor do we view it as a permanent Town facility. If, as everyone hopes, the business district on Chautauqua Avenue explodes and we receive a legitimate offer from someone desiring to use the building for retail purposes, we would be open to the idea of moving to another facility.
While we respect those who take a different view, the Town Board is obligated to act in the best interests of all town taxpayers, and the current opportunity affords us the chance to solve several problems that require fast action, and with no impact on our tax rates. I hope the taxpayers of Busti can understand and support our decision based on the reasons stated above.
Those who would like more information on the project can call Jesse Robbins at 664-2060. Messages will be returned.