Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Fire triggers investigation of possible code violations
More Geneva Town Hall problems, work on hold

by Steve Targo

March 10, 2011

Geneva — It began on the biggest snowstorm in recent memory. On Feb. 2, during the Groundhog Day blizzard, a town squad car burst into flames and set the Geneva Town Hall ablaze.

The building sustained minimal structural damage, but the smoky stench was enough to halt town operations at the structure. The primary election and the regular February Town Board meeting had to be moved to other locations.

The hall reopened, then closed again a week later. At the end of February, ServiceMaster still had fans running downstairs, where the offices of some key town officials are located.

But now, more problems. It’s been called to question whether the Town Hall meets state and federal codes. One potential code violation is using the downstairs for office space.

In a March 2 e-mail, Geneva Town Chairman Dan Lauderdale said the remaining repair work on the Town Hall has been halted.

“Currently, the state commercial building inspector (brought) to our attention various code violations within the lower level of the Town Hall,” Lauderdale stated. “Please remind yourself that conducting operations of a municipal government from a basement causes issues that are of concern.”

On Friday, Town Building Inspector Audrey Boss confirmed this, adding State Building Inspector Char Martin is expected to complete a report soon and meet with her and Lauderdale to discuss the situation.

“I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going to come out of it,” Boss said Friday during a telephone interview.

She said she contacted Martin because she wanted to be “hands off on the decision-making process.” Boss said she wanted an unbiased third party involved because she also served on the town’s Ad Hoc Committee which last year was charged with assessing how well the Town Hall meets the current needs of the community.

What to do with the Town Hall has been a controversial issue since last summer.

In July, the Town Board voted 3-2 to investigate borrowing no more than $2 million to possibly buy property and build a new structure.

At a Town Board meeting last fall, several residents also spoke against the idea, citing economic concerns.

On Friday, Boss said she called Martin to inspect the building shortly after the Feb. 2 fire. Martin conducted her inspection the morning of Feb. 10.

Boss said the basement level still reeked of smoke at that time.

“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.”

She said Martin also recognized those issues and recently received a copy of the plans for the last Town Hall addition in 1992.

“She wanted to see those plans, to see if these issues (were) addressed at that time,” Boss said.

According to Boss, the plans have the main downstairs level of the Town Hall listed as “open unassigned space.” One potential dilemma is that’s the location of offices for the town chairman, the building inspector, court staff, the clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk.

Boss said per her understanding of the code, using space for offices is considered business use.

“It said ‘unassigned’ on the plan,” she said.

Boss also said the current evidence room area isn’t insulated and has no heat.

Meanwhile, Lauderdale stated two Police Department office windows will be replaced this week and the fans continue to be used in the main downstairs area.

Recently, ServiceMasters re-sided the north-facing wall of the building.

But Boss said when the company wanted to rebuild the shelter atop the cellar stairwell leading to the evidence room, or former Police Department office, she ordered them to stop pending the outcome of Martin’s investigation “because I don’t want them to build something and then have to take it down.”