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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials next week will hold a public forum to make their case for a new office building.

“Doing nothing is not an option anymore,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

An informational session has been set for 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Lowville fire hall on North State Street.

All interested residents are invited to attend the program, which is to include a presentation on the rationale for the more than $8 million project and more specifics of the venture, along with a question-and-answer and public comment period at the end. The office building, slated to be constructed on outer Stowe Street next to the Public Safety Building, is intended to reduce or eliminate the county’s need for leased office space and provide a new home for the Department of Social Services.

The Feb. 26 presentation will offer a look at the financial impact of the building project, which would be partially covered by state DSS reimbursement funding, versus continuing to rent office space at several locations.

However, before that happens, county lawmakers will hold a committee-meeting-of-the-whole at 1 p.m. Thursday in the second-floor chambers of the county office building, North State Street, to continue discussions on the project, along with getting an executive session update on union contract negotiations.

“By Thursday, we’re going to be ready to throw everything at anyone,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Legislators still need to make several decisions, including what to do with space to be vacated by DSS in the outer Stowe Street office building.

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

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

While some lawmakers continue to express interest in the three-floor project, 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 the new building into the existing DSS building instead. Construction costs now are projected at $8.7 million for two stories or $11.2 million for three.

To help prepare for that decision, legislative Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, last week worked to update space needs for county departments now in rented office space: elections, highway and solid waste departments, Office for the Aging, Department of Motor Vehicles and Public Health.

“Jack’s really doing his homework,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Bernier, Carr President Rick W. Tague is slated to meet with county and DSS officials on Monday, despite the Presidents Day holiday, to determine if any design changes need to be made for that department’s space.

“We’re kind of pushing ourselves to get things lined up,” Mr. Tabolt said.

Assuming there will be no glitches, the building project could be approved by lawmakers as soon as their March 5 meeting, allowing for construction to start in midsummer and be completed in fall 2014.

The office building project, previously put on hold by budgetary constraints, 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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