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What to do with Geneva Town Hall?


Board may come up with plan April 11



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April 06, 2011 | 08:45 AM
Geneva — Evidently, a state building inspector believes several areas of the Town Hall are not up to code. Part of it may even have been built without state approval.

Now, Town Board members will decide where to go from here. In an e-mail last week, Town Chairman Dan Lauderdale stated that decision may be made at the next regular board meeting Monday, April 11.

The bomb was dropped on town officials in mid-March, after problems with the Town Hall were mentioned in a report from Charlotte Martin, a building inspector with the state Department of Commerce.

The board got a late start on discussing the matter.

Lauderdale said he anticipated the board would discuss Martin's report at a March 14 board meeting. However, because of a lack of a quorum March 14, that meeting was cancelled.

So, it came to the board at its March 24 meeting, Lauderdale stated, and "it was decided that we consider what action we will take" April 11.

The Town Hall problems came to light after part of the structure was damaged in a Feb. 2 squad car fire. Then, Martin inspected the building and released a report March 7.

According to Martin's report, the town needs to address some "code-related matters" concerning a stairwell enclosure near the main entrance, the lower level ventilation system and exit lighting. Martin also questioned if the 1992 remodel of the Town Hall was state-approved.

Last week, Lauderdale said there could be numerous costs involved in fixing these concerns.

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He said Audrey Boss, the town's building inspector, threw out an estimate for a code-compliant ventilation system at the March 24 meeting.

"As I recall, it has been estimated that this may cost the town approximately $25,000 to $30,000," Lauderdale stated.

According to Lauderdale, there also will be a cost to replace the exit lights and install a battery backup.

"That is the easiest fix and most urgent," he stated. "We are trying to address that need as soon as possible."

But the expenses won't stop there.

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"Another cost will be the amendment to floor plans that had not previously been submitted from the 1992 remodeling project,"

Lauderdale stated. "The state would like current plans to be submitted at this time."

However, it appears the town isn't facing any legal punishment for these concerns — yet.

"Thus far, we have not been given a timetable by which to respond (to these concerns) and there has been no threat of the issuance of citations," Lauderdale stated.

How did it reach this level?

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The Town Hall/squad car fire put into motion a series of events few may have expected.

In February, the primary election and local government meetings had to be moved to other locations. More than once, Lauderdale shut down Town Hall operations, mainly because some employees complained about a smoke stench which lingered weeks after the fire.

ServiceMaster repaired some the fire damage. The company replaced the siding and took measures to rid the building of the smoky stench.

However, when it came time to look at replacing the stairwell enclosure, Town Building Inspector Audrey Boss said during an early March interview she halted those plans "because I don't want them to build something and then have to take it down."

Boss also said she contacted Martin so an unbiased third party would be involved. Boss served on the town's Ad Hoc Committee which was created to assess how well the Town Hall meets the current needs of the community.

"I know there are issues in this building," she said. "There are ventilation, heat problems — all stuff we made note of when we as a committee had discussions about it."

According to Boss, Martin conducted her inspection of the Town Hall Feb. 10.

In her report, Martin stated the original stairwell enclosure "appears to have been built without approval and did not comply with the landing requirements for stairways."

She also stated the ventilation system for the lower level of the Town Hall — where the clerk-treasurer, deputy clerk, building inspector and court staff offices are located — appears "inadequate," as does the lower level's exit lighting, she stated.

According to Martin, the Town Hall plans must be "signed and sealed" by a state-registered architect or engineer because the building is greater than 50,000 cubic feet in volume.

Meanwhile, last week, Lauderdale stated workers "have just cleared for the time being" from the Town Hall. It remains to be seen if they will be rehired by the town's insurance company to reconstruct the enclosure.

"I have yet to hear of an estimate for damages sustained by the fire," he stated.

Controversy about the Geneva Town Hall isn't new. Last year, a serious debate raged among residents over whether to replace the current building, which once housed Como Community Church years ago.

Although the board had adopted a resolution to investigate borrowing no more than $2 million to possibly buy property and build a new structure, several residents opposed the idea for economic reasons.

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