ATHENS – City council stalled 2-2 on a vote to overturn a 5-year-old resolution to transfer the management of the Athens Community Center from the village to the city, with a council member absent from the meeting .
The meeting drew a near-large crowd made up largely of village residents opposed to the movement.
City Supervisor Robert Butler and City Councilor Mary Brandow voted against the resolution, with council members Michael Rgaini and Shannon Spinner voting in favor. City Councilor Anthony Paluch was absent.
A second vote will take place at the next board meeting on September 20, when a full board could be in attendance, Butler said.
“We’ll have to do it again when our fifth member gets here,” Butler said Tuesday.
The Athens Community Center was the first but temporary home of Columbia-Greene Community College in 1969 before the college moved to its Greenport campus in 1974, according to the college’s website. For years it served as a community center, along with town and village offices, as well as the municipal court, the village police station, and a public gymnasium.
This is a resolution to overturn another resolution passed by city council five years ago that would have handed over the management of the building to the city.
“Currently, the village maintains the community building and the city rents the space they use from the village,” according to a letter from the village council to the community. “The building needs a complete renovation. Several years ago, the town and village councils decided to hand over the building to the town, which has the financial capacity to carry out the renovations.
But for the past 20 years, the city council has been considering moving the city’s offices to another location and constructing a new building, leaving the community center in the hands of the village alone.
“From a village perspective, we obviously want to move forward with what was in place,” said village mayor Amy Serrago. “When I first became trustee, it was already time to turn over the building. This was supposed to happen at the end of January 2019. I think the community is behind us to share the building, to rehabilitate the building, to do with it what it could and should be.
Serrago urged the city council not to rescind the old resolution and to move forward with the city taking over the building.
“Our overall plan specifically states that people want to see a shared facility for town and village,” Serrago noted. “I know it’s an investment, but I think the building and the community are worth the investment.
The city has been in arrears in rent for the space it occupies in the building and for cleaning costs since 2019, the mayor added.
“I guess it will depend on our vote at the next meeting,” Butler said. “If we end up going elsewhere, will you come after us for the lease and utilities?” If we stay, is it just public services? We can meet on this, but I think a lot of it depends on what happens at our next meeting. “
Most of those present at Tuesday’s meeting are in favor of keeping the town and village offices in the same building, Serrago said. She admitted the building needed a lot of repair, but said the two municipalities working together could handle it.
“In a previous comprehensive plan in 2003, nearly 80% of people who voted thought they should stay. In the last comprehensive plan, that specific question was not asked, ”Butler said. “However, the feeling expressed in the comments was that they wanted the two municipalities to stay together.”
Several people in the audience wanted to know the cost of both the renovation of the existing building and the construction of a new town hall.
The city does not have a cost estimate at this time, Butler said.
“We can’t come up with a price if we don’t have a design,” he said. “If we don’t know which direction we’re going, we can’t invest $ 300,000 in an engineer to come up with a design that we won’t use. “
The first step in the process is to determine whether the municipal offices should stay where they are and renovate the community center or build a new building.
The community center building belongs to the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District, but as long as it remains a community center, the village is currently responsible for it.
“There is a commitment in the deed that we cannot sell the building,” said village trustee Gail Lasher. “It must remain a community building.
The city paid a consultant several years ago to assess the existing building.
The structure is in need of major repairs, said village administrator Michael Rgaini, who voted to overturn the previous resolution.
Windows need to be replaced and made energy efficient, and there are 80 windows in the building, he said.
“It’s quite expensive to have insulated and historically correct windows because they are in the middle of the historic district,” the city councilor said.
Asbestos reduction is necessary and would be costly as well, and the gym has mold, water seeping into it, he said. The municipal court also needs to be modernized and the building needs an elevator to be accessible to people with disabilities, he added.
“The city, for me, needs a modern city hall,” Ragaini said.
The city should also consider the needs of the city’s residents, Ragaini added.
“For more than 20 years, the city has been talking about building its own town hall,” he said. “The town of Coxsackie, the town of Catskill, they all have their own separate buildings. There are a lot of people in the city and I think they deserve something too. There are parts of the city that are 14 miles from this building, so it’s far enough away for the people of the city who have to travel to do business.
He also recommended that the village build a new village hall.
“I just don’t see how building two new buildings is more cost effective than renovating a building we already have,” Serrago said.
Building a new structure costs less than renovating an old one, Ragaini said.
“Any entrepreneur can tell you that,” he said.
Several people in the audience urged city council to come up with a cost for the renovation or construction from scratch.
“We don’t vote on a project. We are voting on the direction to take with the project. It has nothing to do with the cost at the moment, ”said Butler. “How do I get a cost estimate? I’m spending $ 300,000 on an engineer to tell me how much he thinks it’s going to cost. It’s just an idea. “
Butler, who works in construction, said an estimate may not reflect the true cost of the project.
“At this point all we do is see if we need to go one way or another,” he said.
City council is expected to vote again at the next board meeting on September 20.