ITHACA, NY – In the Ithaca of the future, you might be able to get a document notarized, file a police report, and apply for a bonfire permit all at the same address.
On Wednesday, Ithaca lawmakers will consider approving a $150,000 two-part study that will explore opportunities for consolidation of several municipal buildings.
The first part will look at consolidating Ithaca Central Fire Station, Fire Station #9 on East Hill, the Ithaca Police Department and City Hall into one central facility where the Central Fire Station is currently located at 310 West Green Street. The second will examine possible consolidation of the facilities for Water and Sewer and Streets and Facilities into one central location.
“What we’re facing is, like everyplace else, is some aging infrastructure, aging facilities or facilities that just don’t work,” said Ithaca Director of Planning and Economic Development JoAnn Cornish. “We wanted to look at many of our city facilities and get an idea of what it would cost to get them to function for the next twenty years.”
Then the question becomes if it makes more sense to reinvest in those facilities, or consolidate the services into one central location to improve efficiency in the long-term. The study will examine the costs of possible renovations versus the cost of a new facility, as well as how much the current properties would sell for.
Selling the properties, Cornish said, would have two benefits: not only would it provide new development opportunities, but it would also puts those properties back on the tax rolls. It might even provide a new tool for the city in it’s efforts to bring more affordable housing to Ithaca.
“One of the city’s primary goals is to be able to have more affordable housing, and maybe part of this could be looking at the sale price to offset some of the costs of construction, so maybe the price of housing could come down a little,” she said.
Fate of the fire station
In particular, Cornish noted that Fire Station #9 on College Avenue, which was already under consideration for relocation, sits on the “one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the northeastern United States”. The locations of the Water and Sewer and Streets and Facilities buildings, which are both near the waterfront, also would make candidates for something more interesting than a municipal building.
While selling Fire Station #9 may be a financial boon to the city, there have been concerns about the impact of such a change since the idea was first proposed.
“[Fire] Chief Parsons has been very concerned about what’s going to happen with response times and all of that. Of course Collegetown is the densest area of the city… so you want to be sure you can respond quickly,” Cornish said. “Is it really appropriate now to have a fire station in the middle of all that density, or is it better to move it offsite while still having adequate response times?”
She added that Parsons is part of the committee that has been discussing the issue and that the city still has a exploration and discussion to do before it chooses a course. The study will help provide the necessary facts so the city can make informed decisions as discussions move forward.