ITHACA, NY – Earlier this week, we reported on the a resolution before Ithaca’s Common Council that would authorize a $150,000 study on feasibility of consolidating several city buildings — including City Hall, the police station and two fire stations into one central site.
On Wednesday, at a special meeting of Common Council, the council voted unanimously to move ahead with that study. There’s not much new to report, but here are a few important clarifications that came up:
1 – The situation in some city buildings is really bad.
In our previous coverage, Ithaca’s Director of Planning JoAnn Cornish explained that the reason for exploring this consolidation is because it may be more efficient than repairing or renovating some of the city’s current facilities.
At the Wednesday meeting, she hinted at just how bad things were in some facilities.
“I personally was really surprised at some of the conditions in which we expect our employees to work. Some of them I think were really dangerous conditions, and situations we would expect the private sector to correct, yet we have employees in situations that are somewhat questionable,” she said.
Alderperson Donna Fleming, who had toured the facilities as part of a committee evaluating the issue of city facilities, also weighed in.
“It was really eye-opening to see the inside-outs of some of these facilities. I was really chagrined at some of them,” said Fleming. “I don’t know how some of the people can go to work in the places we ask them to work… Tripping over things, mold, musty smells, things piled up everywhere… this has to lead inefficiencies and, I suspect, low morale.”
2 – This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Fire Station #9 in Collegetown.
But it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily staying, either. There was concern about the wording of the resolution, as it seemed to imply that the fate of Fire Station #9 was sealed. The station’s fate has been up in the air for some time, but many are concerned that removing it would hurt response times in that area.
Cornish reported that studies had already been performed for Central Fire Station, Fire Station #9 and a possible replacement for the Collegetown station on Maple Avenue. This new study would continue to weigh the potential benefits and detriments of removing Station #9, so nothing is certain yet.
3 – This isn’t new money.
The aforementioned studies of the fire stations were commissioned out of an existing $500,000 capital project fund. It was estimated that that fund would cover the costs of studies as well as initial planning and design work.
It turns out it covered that and then some — Cornish reported that all of those things had been completed, but used up only $80,000. Thus, the $150,000 for the new study will come from the remaining $420,000 still in the fund, so this won’t add to the budget.
4 – Any action is still a long way off.
While this meeting was somewhat rushed to get ahead of this year’s budget sessions, the study will not be completed in time to use its results. However, by agreeing to move ahead with the study, the city is saying that it will explore consolidation, which may mean it will lean toward band-aid fixes for current issues, rather than large investments to fix facilities that might be consolidated later.
One final point of clarification: the vote at Wednesday meeting was effectively a committee vote, which means it will return to Common Council for final voting during next month’s session. Of course, given that it had unanimous support, it almost a certainty that it will pass at that time, unless there is some major unforeseen shakeup.