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Henderson supervisor wants to ‘start from scratch’ on plan for new town building

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HENDERSON — Newly elected Town Supervisor John J. Culkin wants to “start from scratch” on plans for a new administration building that would replace the town’s cramped quarters at the intersection of Route 178 and Town Barn Road.

The town’s current office and court building, which includes two large rooms, is jammed with desk areas for a court clerk, two justices, town clerk, assessor and supervisor.

But while Henderson residents concur there is a space problem that should be addressed, some oppose the new office building because they believe the town’s $725,000 surplus fund could be put to better use for taxpayers.

One alternative, for example, would be to help the Henderson Fire District build an expanded fire hall that it needs to house firetrucks. By relocating the fire department from its station at the Henderson Community Building on Route 178 — which includes the community hall and town library — space could be freed up to start an office building there. If there is insufficient room to house the town court, they say, it could continue to operate at its current location.

Mr. Culkin, who this year replaced former Supervisor Raymond A. Walker, said Town Council members will exhaust all options this year on how to best spend $725,000 earmarked in the budget for the capital project. Though the board has made building a new structure its priority in the past, he said, less costly alternatives will also be explored again, including the purchase of the fire district building. State and federal grants will also be pursued.

“I would like to start again and be more organized in the planning process,” said Mr. Culkin, who previously served as a councilman since 2012 before filling the supervisor hole. “My own personal opinion is the board kind of jumped the gun on this, and maybe it was because I came as a board member at the eleventh hour.”

Last year, the town had consulted with G&I Homes, Frankfort, to develop plans for a prefabricated building. But after it designed preliminary plans for the building, the developer unexpectedly abandoned the project this past fall. It did so after learning that, as the designer of the project, it would be prohibited by state law to bid on the construction of the 4,300-square-foot building. As a result of the scrapped project, the town lost a $2,000 down payment to the G&I. The developer also kept project blueprints, forcing the town to start its building plans from scratch.

The board will revisit a number of project alternatives that could save taxpayer dollars, Mr. Culkin said.

“We have to decide if we want to leave the court in this building, or have it somewhere else,” he said. “Would it be best to build a brand new building, and would it be better to have it prefabricated or stick-built? We have talked about adding a multipurpose room and recreational area to the building, but we may need to do a trade-off if we find out it’s too expensive. I want to do this in the most inexpensive and quality way possible.”

The board could reconsider the option of buying the Henderson fire station, Mr. Culkin said, but it hasn’t yet collaborated with the district to consider such a deal. The district has considered expanding the station, but that project would cost well over $1 million and would require grant funding.

“Our previous concerns were that the building is too small,” he said.

Mr. Culkin contended the majority of full-time and seasonal residents in the town — which has a population of 1,360 according to the 2010 U.S. Census — would support the decision to construct a new office building.

“I believe this town needs a new building with an efficient, professional workspace so that people who come here for business can do it in an appropriate manner,” he said. “The people who are in favor of it have let us know in person, but there are a small number of vocal individuals who’ve opposed the project by sending out letters to the editor and email blasts. But I have no way of knowing how many people oppose it.”

Henderson Fire Chief John Taylor said that the fire district’s Board of Commissioners would be willing to discuss selling the fire station to the town for its project; in return, the town might provide financial assistance needed to help the district relocate. Though he understands the town’s concerns about the lack of offices for employees, Mr. Taylor said he doesn’t believe the construction of a new court space is warranted.

“As far as I’m concerned, we should consider consolidating the court with another town,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem that it warrants spending a lot of taxpayer money on a new court room if we don’t have many cases.

“I think that if the town and the fire district made a plan where the town moved into the fire district building, and we went to a different location and built the fire hall for the trucks, then the town would have the community hall down there. And between the two projects we would probably save a lot of taxpayer dollars. If the town helped the district, we’d help the town.”

Resident Gary L. Rhodes, owner of Rhodes Greenhouse and Alexander Corners General Store, has adamantly opposed the town’s plan for a new building. Mr. Rhodes, who served as a town councilman from 1986 to 1989 and as supervisor from 1990 to 1993, said he has written numerous letters to the town expressing his opposition to the project. None of them, however, have been returned.

Mr. Rhodes contended the $725,000 saved by the town in recent times toward its new building could be put toward better uses that would benefit all residents. To meet the need for more office space, the board could decide to expand its current building. Or it could help the fire district build a new station, then move its offices into space vacated by the district at the community building.

“I don’t think the board is taking advice from citizens in this town,” he said. “Who would be using the new town office? Mainly the people that are there now. I’d much rather see improvements to the library or fire hall. We need to ask what we can do that will continue to benefit the community 30 years down the road, and a new town building isn’t needed.”

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