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Downtown Facilities Committee Begins Work

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Downtown Facilities Committee Begins Work

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Legislature’s new Downtown Facilities Committee convened for the first time today, setting the stage for in-depth study of Tompkins County’s downtown facilities options, now that the Legislature has approved acquisition of properties in the 400 block of North Tioga Street as the expected site for a new County office building. 

Among the tasks included in the committee’s scope of work:  considering building size, programming (in part, what departments would move to a new building), and parking versus residential options in the design—whether properties on the Sears Street side would be used for parking, residential, or both.

Updating the Committee on status of the County’s purchase contract, County Administrator Jason Molino reported that the property closing is expected to occur in August; at that time he said the current dental building will be closed and current month-to-month leases for building space will be terminated.  Discussing options for current parking on site, there was informal support among committee members that, following closing, current month-to-month on-site parking leases also should be vacated.  Administrator Molino will return to the committee next month with a proposal for how the County might provide temporary parking there for County employees pending development of the property.  Mr. Molino noted that minor improvements to the parking area might be advised, such as surface repairs and striping.

Much of the committee’s time was spent reviewing three new concept sketches for the Tioga Street property characterized as “draft test-fits,” building upon the site feasibility study that has been conducted in collaboration with HOLT Architects. These scenarios focus on internal building options, considering desired adjacencies and operational synergies among departments, and departments’ degree of public contact.  These scenarios assume moving most of the departments currently housed in older/rented space in the downtown area to the new building—such an approach considered in light of information recently received from the State Court System indicating that the Courts will need more space in the near future. This has prompted a review of options to move the District Attorney out of the County Courthouse. 

All three options focus on accommodating County needs within a three-story building, and most include rear setbacks on upper floors to provide a buffer to existing houses on Sears Street.  Scenarios locate public-facing departments (such as the County Clerk, Board of Elections, and Human Resources) on the first or second floors; and GIS-related departments (Planning, Assessment, and in most cases Information Technology) on the second floor.  The scenarios would free up the Old Jail building for the District Attorney and the first floor of the Old Courthouse for more Legislative staff space and a community conference room.  The test-fit, it was noted, did not review any options for the Sears Street side of the property, but instead reviewed what a new three-story building would look like if all the departments were included in a building that staff felt necessary to increase effectiveness in providing services to the public and for County departments.

Legislator Michael Lane recommended a couple of options that he would like to see included as part of the committee’s study—whether County Building C should be retained as a home for some public-facing offices, and whether the historic red house at 408 N. Tioga should remain as part of the project or be relinquished by the County.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Committee heard from two neighborhood residents, urging careful and thoughtful consideration of downtown facilities options, one of them, Nancy Osborne, reminding committee members that the Tioga Street project “is not happening in a vacuum.”  Legislators indicated their commitment to maintaining communication with the neighborhood as study moves forward—in part, opting to schedule future meetings in the late afternoon to make it easier for people to attend.  The committee’s next meeting will take place Monday, July 22nd at 4 p.m., at County Legislature Chambers, 121 E. Court Street, Ithaca.