HUDSON—By the end of this month all Columbia County Courthouse business will return to Claverack, just a stone’s throw down the road from where the original county courthouse, built in 1786, still stands.
The long-awaited $9 million project to renovate and add-on to the current county courthouse is why everything needed to conduct all county courthouse operations will move temporarily over the course of three days—December 26 to 28—from 401 Union Street in the city to the Claverack hamlet.
The new location at 621 State Route 23B is the former, now vacant Claverack school owned by the Hudson City School District. The original courthouse is on the same side of the road at 549 State Route 23B. It is marked by a plaque out front.
Surrogate’s Court files have been moved to a portable storage building at the rear of the Hudson courthouse, and staff will do some shuttling back and forth between the two locations, but otherwise they and all the other people who work at the courthouse—about 30 people—and everything they need—files, books, furniture, office equipment, etc.—will relocate about three miles away, Columbia County Public Works Commissioner David Robinson told The Columbia Paper this week.
Though there is some asbestos abatement to deal with as the courthouse is renovated, Mr. Robinson said the main reasons behind the move are to allow contractors to complete their work more quickly and efficiently and to allow court business to be conducted off-site with less disruption.
The renovation/addition project started in September with the demolition of the old brick vault at the back of the courthouse, where the Surrogate’s Court files were stored. The pouring of footings and walls for the 7,200 square foot addition off the rear of the building was in the final stages this week.
The renovation of the courthouse, built in 1907, and the addition is expected to take 15 to 18 months, said Mr. Robinson. The duration has been reduced by 3 months by the temporary move. Completion is now expected sometime between December 2013 and March 2014, he said. Renovations will be “very sensitive to the architectural features of the building” and the finished courthouse will contain added space for storage, court functions such as drug court, a new courtroom, a handicapped-accessible elevator serving all three floors of the building and air conditioning throughout, Mr. Robinson said.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) said the county will pay the Hudson City School District $110,000 to rent the Claverack school for the first 12 months and if additional time is needed will pay a monthly rent based on the $110,000 figure, around $9,000/month.
To get the school ready for the move, the county will have to do some temporary construction, such as the daises for judges, benches, partitions and some cleaning and painting for which the county will receive up to $14,000 in reimbursement. Bids for cleaning and painting have not yet been received; the deadline bids on the move has been set for December 6.
Asked about the choice of the Claverack school, Mr. Grattan said every effort was made to keep the court in Hudson. He said several supervisors were involved in the search for an alternate location and “seven or eight” places were looked at, including the Elks Club, the armory, the Charles Williams and St. Mary’s schools, but for one reason or another things did not work out. Asked if the county-owned Ockawamick school was considered, Mr. Grattan said it was, but it was found not to be technologically up to the challenge. He said the statewide court internet system requires the entering and sending back and forth of a staggering volume of data generated by proceedings in a long list of courts. Ockawamick does not have the fiber optic or cable capacity necessary for such transmissions, he said.
With the interior space of the existing courthouse at an estimated 28,000 square feet, how will all the people and stuff necessary to carry on court business fit into the estimated 18,000 square feet of space at the Claverack school?
Figuring that out is the job of Mickey Cleary, administrative assistant to Judge George Ceresia, Jr., and supervisor of operations for the Third Judicial District of the State Unified Court System.
Mr. Cleary told The Columbia Paper Wednesday that he wasn’t sure about the square footage comparison, but noted the school is definitely smaller.
“Our judges and staff will be operating with limited space,” he said, but “we have opted to take this Spartan approach to save the taxpayers and state money.” He said there will be four operational courtrooms at the school. Since the plan is to be at the school “for less than a year,” staff will bring “the minimum amount of stuff we need.”
As of January there will be three fulltime judges there, including newly- elected State Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott. “Yes, the space is smaller, staff will be doubling up, judges will have smaller offices and everyone will be working with the bare minimum,” said Mr. Cleary, who stressed it will be a “fully functional court.”
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What’s all this cost?
ACCORDING TO COUNTY Public Works Commissioner David Robinson, the cost breakdown on the $9 million courthouse renovation/addition project is: $5.5 million for general contractors; $782,500 for electrical contractors; $1.2 million for mechanical contractors; and $268,000 for plumbing contractors for a grand total of $7.7 million in construction costs. Professional services, such as engineering and architectural services, amount to $500,000; there is also $500,000 for design and a 10% contingency of $700,000.—Diane Valden