State grant program:

City awarded $2 million for new clock tower

Clock Tower

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
The Squires Building clock tower is seen at the corner of Main and Tompkins streets in Cortland on Jan. 3, 2005. The building was razed in April after a fire heavily damaged it.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The state on Wednesday awarded the city a _$2 million grant to help rebuild the clock tower at 112 Main St., but the property’s owner isn’t sure the money will be enough to help build a proposed $8.1 million structure.
Funding from the Restore-NY Communities Initiative program, which was announced in mid-August, is meant to aid municipalities in rehabilitating or removing obsolete or rundown commercial and residential properties.
The turn-of-the-century Squires Building was ravaged by fire and then demolished in April. John Scanlon, of Cortlandville, who owns the property, is evaluating his options in light of the grant award.
“It puts us in an interesting situation, although I’m obviously excited about the prospect of what this money could do for the city of Cortland,” Scanlon said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It puts us in a situation where, yes, it’s good and we have that potential, but maybe it’s not enough. We’ll discuss all of our options, both between the city and with our architects.”
The latest design is a four-story building with a steel superstructure — in contrast to its predecessor’s wooden frame — but like the Squires Building, it would have a brick façade and possibly provide for retail stores, commercial offices and apartments.
The estimated cost of the project is $8.1 million, and the city and Scanlon had to have an agreement in order to apply for the grant. The deadline was Sept. 15.
The city, with the help of Thoma Development Consultants, applied for $4.8 million from Restore-NY. Of that, $4.6 million would have gone to the clock tower project and another $230,000 would have gone toward demolishing the run-down former Cobakco bakery on Huntington Street.
Bernie Thoma said he had heard nothing about the demolition project since the award for the clock tower was announced.
“We put in the two projects. The clock tower was our No. 1 priority; my assumption is that was the only thing that was funded,” Thoma said this morning.
Mayor Tom Gallagher said the city is lucky it received what it did. State Sen. Jim Seward heavily championed the project, he said.
“I’m truly thrilled, I had talked to Jim about two or three weeks, ago, and it didn’t look like we were going to get it,” Gallagher said this morning. “Jim really went to bat with this to get us the $2 million and we can’t thank him enough, because this project was so important to the community.”
The funding will be distributed under a reimbursement system, Thoma said, wherein the project is completed and the money is then obtained from the state. Gallagher said the financial logistics of the project still need to be worked out.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet, as far as how the building’s going to be developed,” Gallagher said. “We would probably work out some sort of a lease with him (Scanlon), so we would be responsible for the clock. Because he’s not going to make any money from it … It’s something the community wanted when it burnt down, so we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure it happens.”
“It is the city that’s being awarded the grant, and it’s completely up to them,” Scanlon said. “Any disbursement has to meet their approval.”
Scanlon said he would start to meet with the city, Thoma Development and his architectural firm, Syracuse-based Holmes, King and Kallquist Associates.
“We’ll rethink things and see what we can modify and still work within the guidelines of the grant, because the grant is based on square footage, so we can’t just decrease the size to make it financially more feasible,” Scanlon said, adding that merely reducing the square footage might be a possibility, depending on how the grant was worded.
Because the program is so new, and he has yet to review the final grant award, Thoma said he didn’t know what kind of stipulations or restrictions might be attached to the funding.
“We’re going to have to sit with John Scanlon, and he’s the one who’s really going to have to think about it,” Thoma said. “There will be a period of time that he’s going to have to review everything and still make sure it can be developed into a feasible project. Everything that was put into the grant application was a conceptual design, so I hope there will be some flexibility.”
Thoma said he hoped to speak with Scanlon today.
The first round of state funding dispersed $50 million, and a second round in the spring will make $100 million available. Another in the fall will reward $150 million.
Thoma said the city will apply for funding for the Cobakco building demolition again during the second round of funding in the spring.



Survey suggests upgrades to city school buildings

Staff Reporter

A survey of the buildings in the city school district by independent architects outlines $8.9 million in potential renovations and upgrades.
The Board of Education reviewed the study at a meeting Tuesday.
“They took a quick look,” said Steve Pearsall, business director for the district. “That is $8.9 million in construction cost the district could consider.”
The survey found the structures are all in satisfactory condition.
“There is nothing immediate,” Pearsall said. “But in the next couple years we should take a hard look at our roofs, field infrastructure, parking lots and (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems.”
Two architects from Ashley McGraw Architects presented the Building Condition Survey of 2005 during Tuesday’s meeting.
The survey covered the district’s six schools, the bus garage and district office.
Architect Ed McGraw said none of the buildings were classified as excellent because the only structures that get excellent ratings are those that have been built in the last six months.
McGraw and Dan Donavan, also of Ashley McGraw Architects, said their company performed a survey of the buildings’ infrastructure, drainage systems, sidewalks, fields and general conditions of the buildings.
McGraw said his company did not do any disruptive testing.
It did a visual observation and if anything needed further investigation it would have brought the information to the board’s attention.
McGraw said the conditions of furnishings, technology, athletic and food service equipment  and educational adequacy/utilization of space were not included in the survey.
McGraw said none of the systems in the buildings rate as “nonfunctioning” or “critical failure.”
The district’s auditors, Port, Kashdin and McSherry, also presented a report to the board Tuesday.
According to Matthew McSherry, the district’s payment into the retirement system rose  by 650 percent in the last fiscal year.
In the 2003-04 fiscal year, Cortland paid $149,000 into the retirement system and in 2005-06 the district paid $900,070.
Pearsall said the state sets the rate of what each district pays into the employees’ retirement system.
He said the city schools have a $20 million payroll and if the rate goes up 1 percent, that is $200,000 the district must pay.
According to Pearsall, for the 2004-05 fiscal year the rate was 5.63 percent and for 2005-06 the rate was 7.9 percent. He said next year the rate will be 8.6 percent.
Even with the rise in the retirement system fund McSherry said the district’s financial affairs are in good condition.



McGraw school forum raises issue of bus behavior

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — Students misbehaving on school buses and the need for more staff development were the main issues raised Wednesday at a Board of Education forum.
Including board members, superintendent and principal of both the elementary and high schools, 19 people attended the first forum of the school year, titled, “Talk It Up McGraw.” Of those 19, only three were not employed by the district.
The board called the forum to discuss the concerns parents and teachers in the district may have. Board President Michelle Stauber said the idea of the forum originated from teacher Lorraine Doughty at the Sept. 21 board meeting.  Stauber said Doughty suggested they meet to mingle and talk.
Greg Smith, a state corrections officer and part-time bus driver for the district, said at the forum that he sees a lot of problems on the school buses.
“I think parents need to look at some of the videos of the school bus and see how the children act on the school bus,” Smith said.
James McGuiness, principal of McGraw Elementary, said he had 75 referrals last year for inappropriate behavior on the bus. McGuiness said the referrals are a result of children leaving their “feet out in the aisles to shooting things in the bus to swearing to hitting, all that stuff.”
People proposed that students who receive referrals should be accompanied to school by the parent. McGuiness said that when a student gets the first referral, he calls the child’s home. For a second referral, the guardians of that child will need to find alternative means of bringing their child to school. McGuiness said the second ban usually lasts two or three days, but it also depends on the severity of the situation. A third referral enables the school district to ban a child for the year or a significant amount of time.
Smith said the students in grades three through seven are the ones who most often misbehave on the buses.
“What we really want to do is take those kids and talk to them about life skills, talk to them about their responsibility,” said Doughty a first-grade teacher. “(We need to) talk to the parents about their responsibility. Talk to the parent about life skills.”




Architect presents plans for Homer Town Hall

Staff Reporter

HOMER — An elevator for the  handicapped will be built in one of four places in the Town Hall, according to sketches presented at a special Town Board meeting Wednesday.
The town has to decide where it will go to move forward with a Town Hall renovation project. The town needs a wheelchair-accessible elevator in order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The project includes renovations to the courtroom in the Town Hall, which was built in 1908, and exterior parking and landscaping improvements.
The project would cost $400,000 to $600,000, depending on where the elevator is built, said Supervisor Fed Forbes.
The elevator could be built inside the building — at the southwest or southeast portions of the building — or outside the building in a covered entry at the northeast part of the building, according to the sketches.
The elevator could also be built inside the building at the northeast portion of the building, said the architect, Randy Crawford, of Syracuse-based Crawford & Stearns.
Starting today, the sketches will be available for public viewing at the Town Hall. A public hearing on the project will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Town Hall.
A southwest entry elevator would cost about $120,000 while an outside northeast entry elevator would cost about $211,500.
Crawford did not have estimates for elevators inside the northeast or southeast portions of the building, though he said they would not greatly differ from the proposed cost of an elevator at the southwest portion of the building.
Crawford said he had not provided cost estimates because they are difficult to determine at this point. Crawford said he would have better estimates available at the public hearing Wednesday.
The cost of an elevator would add to the estimated $250,000 it will cost to renovate the Town Hall’s courtroom.
Those renovations would increase the court’s number of seats from 25 to 49. They would also increase space for a meeting room for attorneys, the storage room and the bathroom.
The proposed costs of the elevator and courtroom do not include costs to renovate the area surrounding the building. Those costs could include putting in a new sidewalk, improving the parking to the east of the Town Hall or razing a house the town owns north of the Town Hall to make way for more parking.
Crawford said he would have estimates for most of those costs at the public hearing. Forbes said the town would use reserve funds if the final project cost comes in at the lower end of the $400,000 to $600,000 estimate.
“For the more expensive options we might look at borrowing or raising the tax rate,” he said.
The board is expected to decide on the location of an elevator and other project details at a Nov. 8 meeting.