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Lewis lawmakers may embark on office project later this month

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County could start construction on a new $9 million to $11 million office building on outer Stowe Street as soon as this summer.

However, county legislators, while very interested in the project, need to resolve several issues before giving it the official green light, likely at a special meeting later this month.

“I’m ready to move,” Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said Thursday at a special Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting attended by seven of 10 legislators.

“We’re in rented space,” added Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners. “And if we get kicked out, what do we do?”

Committee Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, said he called the meeting to “see if we can’t all get back to square one” on the previously shelved project.

If lawmakers wish to move forward, bids could be put out by spring, allowing for construction theoretically to start in mid-summer and be completed in fall 2014, according to Rick W. Tague, president of Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown.

They still must nail down whether the building will have two or three stories, although most lawmakers present seemed interested in the larger project.

Bernier, Carr in 2011 designed a three-story, 72,000-square-foot office building with an unfinished top floor intended solely for storage and future needs.

Factoring in inflation, construction costs are now projected at $8.7 million for two stories or $11.2 million for three, Mr. Tague said.

The county is expected to be eligible for up to $4.5 million in state reimbursement for space used by the Department of Social Services, although that would be spread over more than 20 years.

Mr. King suggested that spending the additional $2.5 million for a third floor still makes sense, as space needs tend to keep growing over time.

“We’ll never be able to build a third floor as cheap as we can now,” he said.

However, County Clerk Douglas P. Hanno said that, speaking as a taxpayer, it may be a difficult enough public sell for a two-story building, let alone three.

“Two and a half million dollars is a lot of money without a real plan,” Mr. Hanno said.

One factor yet to be determined is what offices would be located in the current, 21,000-square-foot DSS building, also part of the outer Stowe Street complex.

While initial plans were to make more than $2 million worth of renovations to that building so the Mental Health clinic could move from Lowville Commons on South State Street, the clinic is now privately operated by Transitional Living Services of Northern New York, Watertown.

The move could still happen if TLS is interested, but that agency would require less space than the former county department would have, Mr. Bush said.

Lawmakers also discussed moving the county Public Health Agency to the complex from leased space at Lewis County General Hospital. However, since the agency gets some state reimbursement for rent, officials still must determine whether it would be more cost effective to move it into county-owned space.

Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, said his preliminary calculations — factoring in elimination of most lease payments and use of $600,000 annually from wind farm funding for nine years to reduce interest costs — show a return on investment of less than 20 years.

Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, suggested holding a public informational session once project details are set.

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