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Lewis office project still eligible for DSS reimbursement

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials may still be eligible for up to $4.5 million in state reimbursement for its proposed $10 million-plus office building project, according to a consulting accountant.

“It looks like nothing has changed in the last two years,” Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, said Thursday at a legislative Building and Grounds Committee meeting.

That appears to be the case, according to Douglas Venesky from Syracuse accounting firm Venesky & Associates, which provided an estimate in 2011.

However, Mr. Venesky said any figure would be a “moving target,” given that ongoing reimbursement would depend on space used by the Department of Social Services, depreciation, project cost and any future changes in the state program.

Given state funding cuts in so many other areas, Legislator Philip C. Hathway said, he was just happy to hear an estimate similar to the one from 2011.

“For whatever reason, I had in my mind that it would go down,” the town of Diana Republican said. “I’m glad it didn’t.”

Mr. Venesky’s estimate was based on a projected total cost of $13 million, including interest payments over a more than 20-year period, with DSS expected to use roughly half the building.

The county would need to pay construction costs up front, with state payments coming in only after the building is occupied, he said.

“Social services is the only department eligible to get reimbursement for building a new building,” Mr. Venesky said.

Officials from Wladis Law Firm, East Syracuse, last week suggested several other potential grant sources that could help pay for a new building.

Grant funding or donations that reduce the project cost would also likely cut reimbursement amounts, while future improvements — like a new roof — would boost the monthly payments, Mr. Venesky said.

“We’ll work hand in hand to make sure the opportunities for reimbursement are there,” he said.

Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, in 2011 designed a three-story office building with an unfinished top floor dedicated solely to future needs that was to cost about $10.4 million.

While there has been some discussion about eliminating the third floor to cut costs, Mr. Venesky indicated that extra reimbursement may be garnered by using that for DSS storage space.

The office building project, effectively put on hold in early 2012 due to fiscal constraints, was revitalized last month after the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services expressed interest in the former St. Peter’s Catholic School on Shady Avenue, which houses several county offices.

John J. “Jay” Boak Jr., BOCES district superintendent, said his board last week toured the old parochial school building and had further discussions on using it for the alternative education program. The 41-student, full-day program is now housed in a building at the rear of the Howard G. Sackett Technical Center in Glenfield, but that site has no cafeteria or gymnasium space.

Mr. Boak said he also discussed the proposal with area school superintendents Thursday and plans to meet with an attorney today to begin work on a draft agreement with the St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church to lease the building with an option to buy.

“The cost of the facility is significantly less than constructing something new,” he said.

While the move would require BOCES to come up with an acceptable lease agreement and meet numerous regulations, Mr. Boak said he is optimistic that it could happen in time for the start of the new school year in September.

The church would need to give the county six months’ notice, he said.

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