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Infirmary demolition involves high costs

Legislators will gather in May to vote on whether we can afford the demolition of numerous historic buildings long since deteriorated. We’ll also consider whether the age and significance of two of them might make them worth keeping for a while longer despite insufficient funds to renovate.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Dutchess County Supervisors purchased property on Oak Summit Road in the town of Washington to serve as the county “poor-house,” “lunatic asylum,” and later an infirmary. Buildings were constructed gradually so that in 1998 when the Infirmary closed a campus of some 10 inter-connecting buildings of deteriorating conditions stood vacant. In 2004, the Dutchess County Legislature adopted New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) determinations acknowledging their historic significance and authorized $7.1 million to renovate two of the buildings (the North and West Wings) for use as the Eastern Dutchess Government Center. The plan for the remaining buildings was postponed indefinitely. Despite the East Wing collapsing in 2011 under the weight of heavy snow, this month the Legislature is considering the fate of remaining buildings. For most the fate appears to be demolition.

The Supervisor’s Residence, built in 1865, has been proposed for demolition due to significant water damage and roofing collapse. The documentation and salvaging of elaborately decorated stone headers and sills at the window openings, elegant paneled wood and glass door, a wooden stairwell and baluster and stone hearth fireplaces including marble mantels is planned. Demolition cost is $121,460.

The Groundkeeper’s Cottage has also been deemed beyond repair in part due to a collapsed wall and floor. Removal is estimated at $113,615.

At a cost of $172,500, the Center Wing is slated for demolition due to significant water damage, holes in the roof, and a failed roof-support system. Paneled doors with operable glazed ventilators, detailed door frames and wall-base wood floors will be documented, but unlikely preserved.

The Pharmacy also has significant water damage and has been recommended for demolition at a cost of $51,050; as has the North-South Connector at a cost of $55,095. A shed, a water storage tank and a barn will also be removed at a cost of $37,495.

The Farmhouse Residence, initially constructed in the early 1800s, and the West Wing — both under consideration for demolition — will require SEQRA changes if demolition is pursued. In the 2004 SEQRA determination both were highlighted for preservation. The farmhouse was slated for sale to the State Historical Society which has since declined the sale. The West Wing was planned for renovation including a museum as a lasting memory of the property’s significance. These were crucial justifications in achieving SEQRA compliance.

When in 2005 neighbors sued to prevent the reopening of the site as the Eastern Government Center, county resources were spent to defend the lawsuit such that the West Wing renovation was never attempted. Now 10 years later, if either property is to be demolished, an update to SEQRA must first be made.

The West Wing remains structurally sound but has significant deterioration including water damage to the brick façade, and crumbling porches. The cost to stabilize the West Wing for future use is $1.2 million compared to $330,930 for demolition. The farmhouse demolition is $34,675.

District residents are encouraged to share their thoughts and wishes with me in advance of the Thursday, May 8, vote by emailing me at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.

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Among the highlights of the State of the County address by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro in March was the announcement that Dutchess County government will pursue plans to re-privatize the Dutchess County Airport. The consultant’s report that urged this conclusion has been several years in the making. As confirmed in the report, the airport currently runs an annual deficit of $300,000, for which the county taxpayer is forced to assume.

The report compared the Dutchess County Airport to five other municipal airports of similar size and found that among them Dutchess was the only airport to manage operations itself. Such services the county provides include fueling, de-icing and renting storage space to airport users, as well as property management, airfield maintenance and facility maintenance under the name Dutchess Aviation. The report said “Dutchess Aviation is significantly challenged in terms of achieving profitability and in terms of achieving profitability it is challenged in offering the full suite of … services necessary to achieve profitability.”

Its recommendation is that Dutchess County solicit a privately run operator or a set of multiple operators. The report recommends that the county continue maintenance efforts.

For 30 years Richmor Aviation served as a privately run operator for the airport but left in 2013 when negotiations broke down, the details of which still remain unclear. Since then the county has been operating the airport in addition to maintenance services.

Dutchess Airport also stood out in the report as having the most full-time employees, lacking an overall branding strategy and marketing plan and for having a substandard advisory board. Presently Dutchess Airport has 11 full-time employees, with two other positions vacant. In comparison the other airports had five, three, eight, six and three full-time employees, respectively. In the 2013 adopted county budget the largest category of airport expenses was personnel services (38 percent of total expenses).

While the interfund transfers to the airport (also known as subsidies) were reduced to about $600,000 in 2013 (from $800,000 in 2011) the transfers still exceed the 2010 rate. The report notes that industry-wide that it is common for local governments to subsidize municipal airports. It also acknowledges that the Federal Aviation Association sets requirements that airports receiving federal monies (as Dutchess does) must be financially self-sustaining as possible.

A further observation was that the other airports all had multiple sources of non-aeronautical revenue which in Danbury Airport accounted for 46 percent and in the Reading, Pa., Airport accounted for 66 percent of their respective budgets. Non-aeronautical revenue at Dutchess County Airport, the report says, is only a minor percentage of total revenue.

To these ends, the report urges that Dutchess County beef up its airport advisory board, develop a marketing plan, and take steps to attract non-aeronautical businesses to the airport. Already with state grant assistance, the county is connecting the airport to the Dutchess Waterline that runs underneath the Dutchess Rail Trail, and installing sewer lines as an incentive to attract business to locate on airport grounds.

Seeking out a private entity to assume airport operations while reducing the county workforce at the airport, will also go a long ways in making the airport financially self-sufficient.

Michael N. Kelsey represents the people of Amenia, Washington, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature.