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Approvals, Determinations, and Offers Continue at Orange County Government Center

The scene continues to change rapidly with regard to the future of the Orange County Government Center (OCGC) in Goshen, New York. On May 1, the Orange County Legislature authorized a bond for $77 million to renovate the building. The somewhat controversial plan calls for the demolition of the central third of the building—designed by Paul Rudolph in 1971—and includes extensive alterations to the remaining two thirds. The plan relocates the main entrance of the building to the rear and covers most of the signature small roofs (the original building had 88 roofs) with large flat roofs. It also calls for a 61,000-square-foot addition. The total cost surpasses a previously estimated $67 million by adding $10 million for planning to the earlier construction estimate. It also includes $12.4 million for site drainage and parking lot improvements. The new building will total about 180,000 square feet.

The plan is opposed by the Taxpayers of Orange County (TOC), led by Nancy Hull Kearing, who continue to advocate for the preservation of the entire building and feel construction cost is inflated, based on the much lower cost (nearly half that price) of the renovation of the Carney Library at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, which is about the same size and was designed by Rudolph at the same time.

According to sources at the New York State Office of Historic Preservation (NYSHPO), the proposed plan will have to undergo a Section 106 review and approval by the federal government and the state because the budget includes about $4 million in FEMA funds. This review is required because the building was found eligible for the National Register of Historic Places some years ago. Formal National Register listing requires owner consent, which the Orange County government denied. In April, the County Legislature declared itself the lead agency for the reconstruction of the Orange County Government Center and self-determined (as allowed by provisions of the New York State Law) that the project would have no “significant, adverse environmental impacts,” thereby excluding itself from having to go through a State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review, which would have involved the NYSHPO.

In an unprecedented act, Gene Kaufmann, a New York City architect known primarily for his designs for hotels, attended the May 1 meeting where legislators voted to approve the $77 million bond and made an offer to buy the OCGC, although no asking price had been determined. Kaufmann, who bought the celebrated architectural firm of Gwathmey Seigel following the death of principal Charles Gwathmey, proposes to preserve the entire Rudolph building and convert it into “artist’s lofts and community spaces.” Gwathmey Seigel oversaw the restoration of Paul Rudolph’s Yale Architecture School and designed a large addition to that building. Kaufmann’s offer is contingent on being hired as the architect for a new OCGC adjacent to the old one, and on a walk-through of the building Kaufmann met with County Executive Steve Neuhaus and several legislators on May 8 to elaborate on his proposal. A second walk-through of the site occurred on May 22, following which Kaufmann supplied the Orange County government with renderings of his proposed scheme.

The county plans to begin demolition on the central portion of the OCGC on August 2.