The Ontario County Board of Supervisors unanimously set the course for “Option 4” at their May 13th meeting, declaring its intent to raze the 1926 Geneva High School building in favor of a new one story structure that Projects Committee Chairman Dick Calabrese (R-Gorham) assured the public would last “50 years.” In doing so, the Ontario County Board of Supervisors put aside a number of compelling arguments put forward by members of the public which had supported fiscal restraint, due diligence, and educational vision-- and which relied mostly on the County’s own data and planning documents— in favor of the preordained outcome.
In other words, the ‘public input’ sessions conducted by the County served exactly the purpose Geneva City Supervisors stated, “to help the public understand what is being proposed” not to actually allow for the public to have input on what the options might be. So the ‘output’ of the ‘input’ remained the same as it had always been: a County commitment to spend $12 million on a new building to house eight (8) classrooms that might not even outlast the students who will sit in them. At $1.5 million per classroom, we can’t tell our readers exactly what to expect, but we suspect that English 101 won’t ever be the same.
And then, at long last—and, unfortunately, too late to do much good-- the Finger Lakes Times decided to take up the role of public information engine and government fact-checker, to start reporting some of the real facts behind how the County made its decision, facts which, by the way, challenge the local paper’s own, previously stated editorial stance on the project. (Remember, the Times came out early saying that the project was akin to buying a shiny new car).
On Tuesday, the Finger Lakes Times ran an above-the-fold story about the problems the County likely will encounter when they attempt to draw down the State’s pledged $6 million contribution to the project. As members of the public doing their own due diligence, had warned, there is a prohibition on using State (or Federal) funds for the demolition of “historically or architecturally significant structures.” The existing 1926 structure is significant on both counts, which means the County will be required to undergo what is known as a “Section 14.09 review.” The County will be required to prove not only that demolition is necessary, but also, that steps will be taken to mitigate the impact of demolition.
It is hard to see how the County will meet either one of those thresholds without expending additional time and money though the Supervisors claimed that there was no truth to these ‘rumors.’
See for yourself. On the last page (page 13) of the County’s “responses to questions” posed by Geneva City Council on behalf of the community, the first question pertaining to due diligence is asked and answered:
“Have any architects ever been charged with developing a $12 million adaptive reuse program?” In other words, did the County ever actually verify whether or not the existing building could be renovated using the available funding? The County takes a paragraph to tell us, essentially, ‘No, they did not.’ They talk about wanting to take the building off the hands of the Geneva City School District. They talk about multiple cost estimates for remodeling the site, and the school district’s inability to find any other “legal use” for the property. But even the County has to admit that they never specifically asked the architects to see what they could do to that building for $12 million. This will likely not fly for the State, who demands a higher threshold of proof that all alternatives are exhausted.Whether analyzing the Community College’s space needs, the County’s ability to draw down State funds, or the viable reuse strategies for the space in question, the public has exercised the due diligence and fact-based critical thinking that would have served the County well. Too bad the County followed the lead of the FLCC administration in choosing pomp over circumstance, and the Finger lakes Times didn’t catch it earlier.