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City preservation issues delay county window project

Post Time:Dec 18,2009Classify:Industry NewsView:332

Genesee County Facilities Management Office suffered through short-term pain in the glass this past week.

The county had to temporarily stop work on the replacement of windows at the Old Engine House, 3 West Main St., after the City of Batavia Historic Preservation Committee voiced concerns. One irony of the situation is that the county History Department has its offices in the structure, which was built in 1885.

Terry Ross, county supervisor of Buildings & Grounds, whose office is also in 3 West Main, said the city's issue was that its preservation committee was not informed in advance about the work and did not get an opportunity to review the plans. The city's position is that it has to approve any proposed changes to the exterior of the building, Ross said.

"Maybe I slipped up. I don't know," he said.

City officials contacted the county on Dec. 8, after about a third of the 22 windows in the Old Engine House had already been replaced, he said.

The contractor hired for the $36,000 job, Rochester Colonial, had the rest of the new windows in a truck already on site, Ross said.

Ross met with County Manager Jay Gsell and Assistant County Manager Frank Ciaccia. They decided to continue the job.

The work ended up being delayed for three days and was completed Tuesday.

Ross said he contacted Joan Barton, chairman of the Historic Preservation Committee, to inform her of the county's decision to move forward with the project.

"I never heard back," Ross said.

Barton, contacted Wednesday, said there was "no problem" between her committee and the county over the Old Engine House.

"Everything's been completed," she said.

Asked if there was a problem in the past, Barton declined to comment.

Ciaccia, the assistant county manager and director of Facilities Management, said the city's issue was not with the new windows but with "the nature of the building."

The red brick structure, with its four towers, is a local landmark but is not on the National Register of Historic Places. It originally housed pumps used to draw drinking water out of Tonawanda Creek, according to the book, The Architectural Heritage of Genesee County.

Several additions were added to the first pumphouse. Other early uses for the structure included a municipal hall, power plant to generate electricity for street lights and a sewer pumping station.

In 1948 it became the main station for the city fire department. In 1979, after the fire department opened a new station on Evans Street, the Engine House, in disrepair and in danger of being razed, was sold to businessman James Dennis, who remodeled it and converted it into a restaurant, according to the book.

After the restaurant closed the county acquired the Engine House to use for office space.

Ciaccia said the windows taken out in the past week were not the originals. They were installed by the owners of the restaurant, he said.

Ross said the new windows are double hung with aluminum frames. The originals were double hung with wood frames.

The new windows are commercial grade, double-paned thermal glass and are "very energy efficient," Ross said.

Ciaccia said the window sills taken out this past week were in such poor shape that they could not be re-used. The assistant county manager said he was also concerned the sills could no longer safely hold a pane of glass in place.

Ciaccia said the job "had to be done now. The city was fine with that."

The county could not tie up the contractor while waiting for the city to act. The next city Historic Preservation Committee is scheduled for late January, Ciaccia said.

The assistant county manager also said he didn't believe the city had oversight over the project for two reasons, the Old Engine House is not on any historic register and because the county has its own building code officer.

In another irony, the issue of city-county control came up at Tuesday's Genesee County Planning Board meeting. The city police department wants to construct a storage building in a parking lot behind the Old City Hall, on West Main Street, across the road from the Old Engine House.

County Planners recommended rejection of the city's request for a variance from the city's own zoning laws. The city has the final say on the matter and does not have to follow the county recommendation.

County planners also suggested the city consider declaring itself immune from city zoning law. That can be done if the city shows it is "balancing" the application of the zoning law against the interests of the public.

Governmental immunity from zoning is established in New York State case law.

Source: www.thedailynewsonline.comAuthor: shangyi

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