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Municipal center idea resurrected as sewage closes police station cells
By Jananne Abel
A sewage leak is just the latest in a string of maintenance and structural issues at the Port Chester Village court and police station at 350 North Main St., which was built in the 1930s.
In the ongoing saga of the deteriorating condition of the Port Chester police station/village court, eight of 10 cell blocks were closed last week due to leaking sewage. Until the situation can be fixed, Port Chester is working on an intermunicipal agreement with the City of Rye for use of their cells for prisoners in addition to the two cells that remain open.
In a July 1 memorandum to the village board, Manager Christopher Steers reported that the cell blocks were closed on June 24. At the Board of Trustees meeting Monday night, July 1, Steers explained the situation that forced their closure. It was discovered that "each time you flushed the toilets in the cell blocks, raw sewage was leaking because the seals were broken behind each one of those toilets."
This discovery was made following a sewage backup in the basement caused by the main lines being clogged with various debris, said Steers. The plumber cleared the main lines but noticed leaking in the basement. A dye test identified the toilets in the cell blocks as the source of the leak.
The sewer lines were cleaned out so they are now flowing, Steers said, "but we still need to repair all those broken lines." It is being treated as an emergency repair.
The estimated cost to replace all the plumbing lines in the cell blocks and eight toilets is $30,000. The project may take up to eight weeks due to the need for some welding and an extended delivery date for the specialized combination toilets, said the manager.
In the meantime, once the IMA is finalized, Port Chester will be responsible for transporting prisoners to Rye, the manpower for overseeing them and the related overtime.
"In all, the sewer backup turned out to be fortuitous as we were able to finally identify one of the major causes for water damage in the basement," wrote Steers in an e-mail. "Further, as we have prioritized and funded these long overdue repairs, we are finally able to help improve the work environment for our police officers."
Over the years the village has been pumping money into the 350 North Main St. building with no end in sight.
Steers said he did a walkthrough of the 1930s building in October and identified a number of things that needed to be maintained. Procedures were modified, painting done and the courtroom upgraded with new carpeting and chairs. In the meantime, he previously reported that the wall behind the dais where the trustees sit at meetings is separating from the structure and moisture seeps into the walls because the bricks need repointing, among other deficiencies. Because of moisture getting inside, months ago the wall was opened up and the cinderblocks exposed at the bottom of the long stairway leading to the second floor courtroom.
In May the village received a complaint from the Department of Labor with 18 building violations including the break in the plumbing, electrical infractions and problems with exit signs and egresses. Steers said 15 of them had been addressed before he met with Labor Department officials.
Last month the board approved an expenditure of up to $300,000 to make needed repairs.
Municipal center on the table
Relocating the police station and court or building a new facility have been discussed by the village board for several years with no agreement on moving ahead. It was a campaign issue during the March election. Trustee Sam Terenzi was the loudest proponent of constructing a municipal center including a police station/court and village hall as well as a parking garage at the corner of Poningo Street and Irving Avenue which would back up to the existing firehouse on Westchester Avenue.
Under previous Village Manager Chris Russo, JCJ Architects came up with a plan and a study was done to see if a parking structure in this location would pay for itself. The study determined that the demand for parking was not sufficient.
At the last village board meeting Mayor Neil Pagano asked Terenzi to come up with financial projections to build such a facility.
The current quagmire at the police station "opens up the whole conversation of this building and the conditions the police have had to put up with these past many years," said Pagano at Monday night's meeting. "I think we have a great deal of talent on this board. We are going to address this problem and solve it. We are not going to kick it down the road. Sam has one plan. It's as good a place as any to start."
Terenzi explained that the corner property at Poningo and Irving has been for sale for a year and a half and that the village could have friendly negotiations with two other property owners to acquire the necessary land for the project. 'We would level the entire area and put up a municipal center-police station and village hall-and tie a garage in the center" which would also service Westchester Avenue. Terenzi projected $2.8 million for land acquisition.
"We are talking $20 to $24 million in expenditures," he said. Terenzi's idea is to use short-term debt to pay for the project until it is completed in five years and then go out for a 20-year bond which would add $1.6 million to the village's debt service. "At the end of the day we would sell the police station and 222 Grace Church St."
"It would create a whole different atmosphere on Westchester Avenue," he said, and might have a ripple effect.
Jumping ahead, Terenzi said the village could make a favorable zoning change for Grace Church Street to allow for assisted living or "something that would bring us the best price for the property." He admitted that the village would never recoup the $15 million it has dumped into #222.
"The word on the street is we're selling the Horton School building tomorrow," retorted Pagano. "This is a long-range plan and it's in the discussion stages. That's it. We're not going to close the senior center."
"You need five people to borrow money," said Terenzi. "There has to be five people on this board willing to take this thing forward. If there is a will, we have to get the wheels in motion."
He suggested meeting with the National Development Corporation to firm up his numbers and for professional advice, an opinion Pagano and Trustee Joe Kenner concurred with. Pagano said they do public/private partnerships and have impeccable credentials.
The mayor said the Industrial Development Corporation and Local Development Corporation might have a role as well, particularly with some of the soft costs.
He also questioned whether doing a Request for Proposals was the way to go.
"We can have a whole workshop on this project," said Trustee Dan Brakewood, who was more hesitant than the other board members. He asked Terenzi if he had taken into account the study that was done which said "there wasn't economic justification" for a parking structure.
"That was based on more cars," Terenzi replied. "We are talking 200 cars. He projected $100,000 in revenue from the garage.
"The number one thing we need to do is to look at the design," said Brakewood. "I don't want to design a 20th century municipal center. Technology is changing everything so rapidly that it's all about the design, using technology to reduce the size, to reduce the costs, to reduce the tax burden."
"The decisions this board makes have long-term consequences," he warned, noting that the village was still paying for the heavy lift to buy the Horton School about 12 years ago.
"We have one white elephant," he said. "We don't want to double down and get a second white elephant until we have a plan to get out from under it."
"If we weren't up against this police station issue, I don't think we would be as aggressive," responded Terenzi.
"We don't have a choice anymore," said the mayor. "We've just got to bite it and move forward."
Kenner said he'd like to test out and firm up the numbers with the NDC or otherwise.
Steers said the state now allows piggybacking on other contracts.
Village Attorney Anthony Cerreto said New Rochelle had some experience with Requests for Proposals and the village could work with them off their contract.
"There are so many variables," admitted Terenzi. "I think this should be one of the priorities at least by the end of the year. Maybe by the fall we'll have a better idea."
"The one complaint I've heard about the Horton School is it's not well designed," said Brakewood. "It didn't really meet the needs of the village from day one...That's why I'm heavy on the need to design what we want."
There was general agreement for the staff to look into the piggybacking solution and developing an RFP. Steers agreed that getting a design professional was the first priority.
"It's about time we need to do something," chimed in Trustee Luis Marino, adding that "we need to maintain the rest of the buildings in the village," including the firehouses. "I would like to see us move forward with this project. Don't let it die in here."
"Our police and the Village of Port Chester deserve a heck of a lot more," concluded Pagano. "We need to stop apologizing for our own facilities."
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