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Government Waste

Town of Lancaster did not act responsibly on police building project say residents; Part I
By Lee Chowaniec
Jul 19, 2011, 11:19
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In a recent Lancaster Bee ‘Letter to the Editor’ publication, Town of Lancaster Councilman Mark Aquino opined that the town acted responsibly throughout the eight year period from purchase of the 3949 Walden Avenue Colecraft building to the decision to change plans and construct a new build on Pavement Road.

“Not so,” commented several residents who attended Monday evenings Town Board meeting.

Resident Donald Symer, PE. addresses board

As a registered Democrat, early supporter of Town of Lancaster (TOL) Councilmember Mark Aquino and one of five civil action litigants against TOL board members involved in 2003 purchase, etc. of the Colecraft factory intended as a Public Safety building, I was shocked to read his highly distorted July 14th Bee letter. Instead of looking forward to benefitting interests of Town residents, the letter clearly attempted to protect certain board members by re-hashing the past with virtually every statement he made provably false. Since Mr. Aquino has been in office about 18 months it appears that faulty information was given him.

Looking back, the citizen’s lawsuit was brought because certain TOL board members garnered commitments from Lancaster Village (VOL) trustees to join in a $ 15,000 public safety building site study when, unknown to the VOL, TOL had already purchased the site. Also, the $25,000 legal expense Mr. Aquino cited as being incurred by TOL was largely the result of TOL’s insurance carrier’s refusal to pay for defense of culpable council members, thereby causing TOL to hire another law firm.

In April 2003 I toured the then fifty year old Colecraft building. A reputable local builder constructed its first phase (nearest Walden Ave.) and that appeared structurally sound. However, later additions appeared to be built on extremely limited budgets. I recall seeing highly uneven and wavy floors, cracked cinder block walls (indicative of probable insufficient soil bearing capacity) and inadequate roof structure. My impression then was additions did not meet building codes when constructed. In 2003 I and others publically recommended a new public safety building.

Mr. Aquino’s letter has aroused angst with many of his supporters, and I suggest that he promptly execute damage control by issuing a statement indicating that he was unfortunately given faulty information.

Lee Chowaniec addresses board

The Town and Village of Lancaster police forces merged on March 31, 2003. The general understanding at that time was that the Village Municipal building would be improved to temporarily house at least some of the operation until a another facility could be purchased or built in the future – at least two years away.

The Town entered into a contract to purchase the Colecraft building on April 7, 2003. On April 11, 2003 the town hired Clough Harbour & Associates (CHA) to perform a study to assess building integrity and condition. On April 28, 2003, by resolution, the town approved bonding of $1.9 million to purchase the $1.63 million building.

The agreement signed by Supervisor Giza was an irrevocable/enforceable agreement. There were no options, merely a financing contingency. The purchase contract was contingent upon the town approving financing through bonding for the money. The town board passes a resolution to bond $1.9 million dollars to purchase the Colecraft building for $1,630,000, two weeks prior to the May 12, 2003 Town Board meeting and where Village of Lancaster Mayor Cansdale and several Trustees attended.

The purchase agreement was not an “option to buy” contract and the town never made it known to the Village Board members at the May 12th joint meeting. Nor did the town make it known that they had already contracted CHA to perform a “building integrity study” or what the contents of the study revealed.

At the May 12, 2003 impromptu meeting the following statements were made:

Mayor Cansdale: Cansdale declared that he thought they (town and village) had agreed to take a look at several building options and act together to make a decision on choice. “We are not against the Colecraft building, but we are against the process used to determine that the Colecraft building was the best buy and the best fit for the needs,” said Cansdale. “We have to determine what the final costs would be for any build out. “The taxpayers should get the biggest bang for the buck.”

Supervisor Giza declared that they didn’t do this overnight. “We have studied this for quite a while. This is not a whim! To which Cansdale replied, “It doesn’t appear that way. The merger took place on March 31, 2003 and you bonded to purchase the building on April 28, 2003.”

Trustees Jeff Stribing and Ken O’Brien declared the Colecraft building had been on the market for some time (perhaps two years) and that no one knew the value of the buildings or costs to renovate them.

At the May 12th meeting Supervisor Giza twice declared: “If it costs a total of $4 million dollars, we will still be cheaper and bigger.”

After the Trautman study “sticker shock” set in. Building options and cost estimates according to Trautman & Associates:

Colecraft building - $8.5 million: 77,000 square feet; $89.61 per square foot; $1.6 million for Colecraft building.

Village Municipal Building, Scheme A - $13.6 million; 93,000 square feet; $134.41 per square foot; $1.07 million to purchase building.

Village Municipal Building: Scheme B - $10.87 million; 72,000 square feet; $136.11 per square foot; $1.07 million to purchase building.

New Build: $13.58 million; 77,000 square feet; $172.73 per square foot; $280,000 to purchase land.

Supervisor Giza stated that the estimates for a new facility, that would meet all police needs, would cost $7 –$8 million dollars. As the building costs for a new build at the time was quoted in the feasibility study at around $173 per square foot the public was being misled in that the figure was for a 76,000 square foot building. The new build on Pavement will only be 26,900 square foot. In 2003 that size building would have cost only $4.7 million.

Sometime in 2007 then Justice Timothy Dwan suggested selling the Walden Avenue building and building a new facility on Pavement Road. So did then Councilman Dan Amatura stating in 2008 that a new build of 35,000 square foot could be had for $7 million at that time.

We have now bonded $10 million for a 26,900 new build on town-owned property, have a Walden Avenue building that is structurally unsound and was taken off the tax rolls, spent hundreds of thousands to repair and maintain the Walden Avenue building, and you state in your Bee article that the town acted responsibly? I beg to differ with you sir, especially when the town was less than truthful with the Village and reticent on many occasions to answer the public’s questions on the process and associated costs.

NEXT: Part II: More resident comments and Aquino rebuttal

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