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Lewis legislators planning informational session on office project

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials plan to hold an informational session for their office building project, possibly within the next couple of weeks.

“It’s going to be a chance for the public to understand where we’re coming from,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

The presentation would include the projected financial impact of the building project, which would be partially covered by state Department of Social Services funding, versus continuing to rent office space at several locations, Mr. Tabolt said.

“Hopefully, they’ll have a better understanding of what it’s all about and why we’re proposing it,” he said.

The forum also would give people the chance to offer suggestions before legislators officially move forward with the outer Stowe Street project, Mr. Tabolt said.

“Maybe somebody’s got something we missed,” he said.

County leaders are tentatively eyeing Feb. 25 or 26 for the session, likely at 7 p.m.

However, no venue has been set, and more work needs to be done by county officials and architects before that can happen.

“By our public forum, we want to have all our ducks in order,” Mr. Tabolt said.

If that happens by late February, the full Legislature could formally approve the project as soon as its regular meeting March 5.

“I don’t want to invent time frames, but I think that’s attainable,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Bids could be put out by spring, allowing for construction theoretically to start in midsummer and be completed in fall 2014, Rick W. Tague, president of Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, said at a legislative committee meeting last week.

Mr. Tague is slated to meet soon with officials from DSS, slated to utilize at least half of the proposed building, to review their space and layout needs, Mr. Tabolt said.

Any major design changes would delay the process and, presumably, the public forum, Mr. Tabolt said.

Legislators also will need to decide what to do with space to be vacated by DSS in the current building, already part of the county’s outer Stowe Street complex, and whether to propose a building with two or three stories.

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 now is privately operated by Transitional Living Services of Northern New York, Watertown.

Although many lawmakers seemed interested in the larger project last week, Mr. Tabolt said some appear to be reconsidering, given an additional $2.5 million cost for the extra floor and the potential for moving some offices planned for a new building into the existing DSS building instead.

Bernier, Carr in 2011 designed a three-story office building with an unfinished top floor intended solely for storage and future needs. Construction costs now are projected at $8.7 million for two stories or $11.2 million for three.

The office building project was revitalized in December 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. BOCES officials are considering moving the 41-student alternative education program from the Howard G. Sackett Technical Center campus in Glenfield.

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