Getting It Right The Third Time, What A New Village Hall Has Meant To Tarrytowners

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The issue of a new Village Hall for Tarrytown raises several questions – the first being, how efficient has Village government been with a project that started ten years ago?

Those residents who remember its inception with the Pilla administration, circa 1996, know that it was projected to cost around $4,000,000 without a police station attached to it. Current Tarrytown Trustee Tom Basher was a member of that administration which approved payment of over $200,000. to Lothrop Associates Inc. from Valhalla for its work on architectural design. The Village Hall project and the administration ran into difficulties when renderings revealed a structure made of pre-cast concrete panels and glass. Political foes along with disenchanted residents forced a referendum in which the proposed building, sarcastically referred to as “Pilla’s Palace,” was defeated. In the end, former officials and professionals close to the project say that almost $250,000 was spent, with no tangible results.

Five years later, in 2001, the Janos administration hired the architectural firm of Pellaton and McCarthy of Ossining to design a new Village Hall, Police Department and Courthouse. The firm had previously designed a Village Hall for Ardsley and was confident about the quality of work they could provide the Village Board. One letter from the architectural firm to the Village stated that the goal of the project was to “design an affordable structure that will be aesthetically pleasing and provide the Village residents and employees with a safe and healthy work environment.” This same structure was to afford complete accessibility, be energy efficient, require limited maintenance and incorporate a police facility and courtroom. The two-story structure incorporated a 7,300 square foot Police Department (from the existing 5,112 sq. ft.) and a 10,100 square foot Village Hall and Court (from the existing 5,480 sq. ft.). The structure was to cost $4,290,000 based on a Village referendum that authorized that price. It was to be completed by the fall of 2003. The arrival of a new Village Administrator in 2002 derailed the project and Tarrytown government turned their attention to a property owned by the Robert Martin Company (where the new Walgreens sits today). A question that goes begging for an answer is: Why did the Village of Tarrytown entertain buying another property and even start condemnation hearings on it, when they owned the land already slated for a new Village Hall? In the end the Village paid an additional $121,000 for the services rendered by the second architectural firm.

The questions about governmental efficiency were compounded when it was decided that Tarrytown’s new Village Hall would be built on the west side of the railroad tracks and take along with it the Police Department and Courthouse. The decision raised questions about safety issues concerning police response time and the integrity of the H Bridge; public sentiment was for the most part not supportive of the proposal. With the election in March 2005 of the current Fixell administration, Village Hall’s location and architectural firm changed once again.

The current Village Board has four members that have been instrumental at one time or another over the past ten years in the decision-making policies concerning Village Hall. With their new direction comes another proposed structure along with questions. During a December Board of Trustees meeting a resolution was put forth by Trustee Chillemi and seconded by Trustee Basher that stated: “Be it resolved that the Board of Trustees of the Village of Tarrytown hereby approves a contract between the Village and Pustola Associates of 185 Meadow Street, Naugatuck, CT in the amount of 6.5% of the total construction costs for architectural services for the design of the new Tarrytown Village Hall.”

The resolution before the Board raises an important question: Who decided to give the architectural firm a percentage of construction costs rather than a flat fee? There is the distinct possibility that basing architectural fees on a percentage of construction costs can increase the overall cost of the project. As one expert in the design and construction of large projects said, “It takes the same amount of time and services to specify building materials that may be less expensive as it does to specify materials that may be more expensive.” Also, as a result of hurricane Katrina, the building market for materials is inflexible and costs can rise sharply without notice. With that in mind, would it not be in the best interests of resident taxpayers for the Board to consider paying a “lump sum” fee to the architectural firm, rather than giving them a percentage that may increase with the choice of materials and their availability? In addition, the Board of Trustees recently drew up another resolution for pre-construction management services with Abbott and Price Inc. of Ossining for $54,000. According to a professional we spoke with, a project like Village Hall does not require a “construction manager” although municipalities do use them. When construction gets underway a construction manager can charge anywhere from 8-10% of the project’s costs. Combined with the 6.5% being contemplated for the architectural firm a total of up to 16.5% will be billed on top of actual construction costs for the new Village Hall. Presently $5,290,000 is earmarked for the new building ($4,290,000 approved by voters and $1,000,000 given by the developers of Ferry Landings). The final price tag for Tarrytown’s Village Hall has yet to be determined, and there is speculation that it could cost as much as $6,000,000. At the current estimate it is conceivable that $872,850 could be spent on architectural and management services this third time around. These are known as “soft costs” in the industry and have nothing to do with the actual construction of Village Hall. Couple these “soft costs” with those from the past ten years and $1,247,850 is a conservative estimate of non-construction costs. Is it not in the best interests of fiscal responsibility and Village taxpayers that the current Board meticulously review the current resolutions before them? Should they not be absolutely certain that architectural and construction manager services don’t overlap, resulting in paying double for one service? Is it not sound to consider a flat fee arrangement rather than paying on a percentage basis for services?

As of March l, the Village of Tarrytown had not signed a contract with Pustola & Associates for architectural services, or with Abbott and Price Inc. for construction management, according to Mayor Fixell. The Village had however invited the press and local television to attend a “New Village Hall Groundbreaking Ceremony,” at Depot Plaza, two weeks prior, on February 16. That raises the question of what comes first, a signed agreement to proceed or the photo opportunity prior to an election? With the government’s track record on Village Hall over the past ten years, this and other questions seem quite reasonable and relevant.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento