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Capital Committee Recommends Freeing Up Old Library Space; Receives Administrator's Report on Center of Government Concept

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Capital Committee Recommends Freeing Up Old Library Space; Receives Administrator's Report on Center of Government Concept

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Continuing its review of the County's long-term capital needs, the Legislature's special Capital Plan Review Committee took a first step in looking toward the future of the Old County Library and reviewed County Administrator Joe Mareane's recommendations on how the County should approach assessing the costs and benefits of a possible Center of Government building.

After hearing an overview of space use and needs related to the two programs housed in the Old Library--'the County Records Center (administered by the County Clerk's Office) and the Probation Department's Community Justice Center--'the committee, by unanimous vote, recommended that the Legislature direct the County Administrator to look for suitable potential spaces into which to relocate those two programs.

Legislature Chair Martha Robertson, who chairs the Capital Plan Review Committee, said this step must be taken before addressing what is done about the Old Library building, which Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx has advised is not currently maintained to public building standards. Facilities Director Arel LeMaro today estimated it would cost in the $1 million range to deconstruct or demolish the Old Library, if the County eventually decides to do that.

As requested by the committee two months ago, Administrator Mareane presented a written proposal on how to examine the concept of a Center of Government building. The new county administrative building was first recommended as part of the County's 2005 Space Use Master Plan, is proposed in the County's capital plan for construction in 2018, and received renewed focus this year, with the preliminary suggestion that the County and City of Ithaca might share such a facility.

The administrator made it clear that examination of this initiative is based on its potential to save the taxpayer money:

"During a time of great financial stress, governments must review all available options to increase efficiency and decrease costs," Administrator Mareane states in his report. "As part of that comprehensive effort--'and in light of the deterioration of the former County Library building and a looming courthouse space study that may result in the State's 'eviction' of the Legislature and the Office for the Aging--'the County is considering the exploration of benefits and costs associated with replacing several older and relatively inefficient office buildings with a single, efficient Center of Government (COG) building. The potential benefits to taxpayers of such a relocation may be enhanced if the COG houses both County and City offices, allowing for an array of shared spaces and building systems. Therefore, the benefits and costs of a shared building also warrant review."

The recommended process would begin with the County determining whether it wishes to proceed with in-depth analysis of the COG, including 20-year life-cycle costs of both new and existing facilities, which would require outside expert assistance. As a result of the analysis, Mareane stressed that a clear business case must be made that "the benefits of a new Center of Government Building must offset the costs of the project--'benefits that predominantly consist of tangible cost savings," not simply that such a facility would be convenient or nice to have.

Mareane suggests potential savings could come from factors including energy efficient design and technology; reduced maintenance, custodial, and information technology costs; more efficient space and land utilization; and staff-related organizational efficiencies, as well as revenue from the sale of surplus buildings and returning existing public buildings to the tax rolls.

Committee members thanked the administrator for his comprehensive report and agreed this is only the first step in deciding how to proceed. Chair Robertson said decisions must begin with assessing what the County needs and then, if the project is pursued further, whether the City should be part of it. Legislator Mike Lane said he is not a strong supporter of co-location and that many questions related to that arrangement would have to be answered.

As a next step, Administrator Mareane, Commissioner Marx, and Facilities Director LeMaro will examine the issue further, then report back to the committee.