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Recommendation, But No Firm Direction From Capital Committee on Aging Office, Justice Center Locations

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Recommendation, But No Firm Direction From Capital Committee on Aging Office, Justice Center Locations

Thursday, August 11, 2011
The Legislature's Capital Plan Review Committee, in nearly two hours of discussion, tackled the difficult task of reaching consensus on where to locate the County Office for the Aging (COFA), which under most options would move the Community Justice Center from the Old Library building to the Human Services Annex--'the former Carpet Bazaar building on West Martin Luther King, Jr./State Street, first envisioned for COFA.

Presented with six alternate options, which included sticking by that original plan, the committee, after a series of split 3-2 votes, found it could not readily reach consensus and ended up recommending, by a vote of 4-1 (Legislators Mike Lane, Frank Proto, Dooley Kiefer, and chair Martha Robertson in favor, Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera against), an option that would move the Justice Center to the Annex and COFA to the Old Library temporarily while other location options are being investigated. Legislators Lane and Proto, however, stressed they were only supporting that option as a way to advance the issue to the full Legislature for consideration next Tuesday. All the options, the Chair stressed, are on the agenda, and any legislator can move to substitute another option for consideration.

Robertson noted the arrangement would enable COFA to vacate its current space in the County Courthouse, as mandated under the New York State Court Facilities Act, and would not foreclose consideration of any future permanent option. Aging Office Director Lisa Holmes characterized the option as "not ideal," but said keeping COFA downtown, instead of relocating it to the new Health Department Building on Brown Road, is a priority. Legislator Lane said he is concerned that, through this option, the County still would lack a plan to fully vacate the Old Library. Legislator Luz Herrera called it "a little short of irresponsible" to make COFA repeatedly relocate.

Alternatives that failed to be recommended, all by votes of 2-3, included proceeding with the plan to locate COFA at the Human Services Annex (along with another human services tenant); relocating the office temporarily, for a period of at most three years, to the Health Department; and locating it in rented space in the former Fall Creek Studios building on N. Tioga Street. The committee did recommend, by a 3-2 vote, to remove one proposed option, which would move the Planning Department and the Ithaca Tompkins County Transportation Council to the Health Department Building and COFA to the first floor of the Old Courthouse, currently occupied by Planning. (All alternatives, other than the initial plan would the Justice Center to the Annex.) The committee did not vote on the location alternative that would move COFA to Brown Road permanently, and the Justice Center to the Annex.

Cost of the recommended option--'to move COFA to the Old Library temporarily, with the Justice Center moving to the Annex--'is a bit more than some of the others--'projected at a $4 million cash outlay and 20-year cost value of $3.3 million, but some committee members said the decision should be about more than the numbers.

On the matter of discussions with the Courts over the timetable for COFA and the Legislature to vacate the Courthouse space, Chair Robertson reported that discussions with Administrative Judge Robert Mulvey have resulted in agreement that the Aging Office will vacate by the end of the first quarter of 2012, with the exit date for the Legislature delayed until the beginning of 2013, an agreement Robertson said is "deeply appreciated." The Courts had first specified that the County must vacate by the beginning of 2012.