Orange County Government Center

Seven renowned architects make their case for the Orange County Government Center

in the NY Times, June 5, 2015:


Democratic Legislative Report On The Government Center: 

From an April, 2015 presentation to the Executive Committee of the Orange County Democratic Committee by Legislator Matt Turnbull [District 11], who spent many years in the construction industry.


The building was constructed in the late Sixties. It leaked when first occupied, but the leaks were fixed and it didn’t leak again until the roof ran its useful life and was replaced in 1985. It started to leak again around 2000, and again, that roof ran its useful life but has not since been replaced.

Instead, buckets and tarps became the main strategy for making the case for demolishing the building and constructing a new Government Center.

No Maintenance

The building has never had a maintenance plan, nor a plant engineer, assigned. The HVAC system and the air ducts have been blocked off or rerouted in a way that has compromised the air flow, and is the most likely culprit for its “sick building” reputation.

The Walls

There have been several studies done on the building, starting with the LAM Report in the Nineties, the Labella Report in 2011 and, most recently, the Kemnitz/Smith-generated Forensic Study.

The LAM Report and the subsequent Labella Report claimed that the walls leaked and needed to be replaced. They estimated that the cost for replacing the walls was $9 million. The Kemnitz/Smith Forensic Study (2012) established once and for all that the walls do not leak. 

Because “leaking walls”, and the $9 million cost for replacing them, was the main reason for justifying the demolition of the structure, the Forensic Study became a significant factor in the case for renovating.  Architects and engineers, including Clark, have testified that the walls do not need to be replaced. But incredibly, a spreadsheet was presented to the Legislature that now suggests that it is cheaper to replace than to fix! 

One of the ways they make their case is by using a $45 per square foot labor cost for repointing the mortar joints on the rib-faced block. 

First of all, the mortar joints on the rib-faced block do not need to be repointed. In fact, they are in excellent shape. Second, the $45 per square foot number they use is more than twice the highest number I can find in any estimating manuals or data on the internet. 

So, if the architects and engineers agree that the walls are in good shape and don’t need to be replaced, why are we replacing them? 

When we hire experts, and spend millions of tax dollars on the studies and the resulting information,  shouldn’t we listen to them? 

Who is running this show behind the scenes, in the back room, producing result-oriented reports and misinformation, to achieve their shadowy goals?

Special Investigative Committee 

In the summer of 2012 Roxanne Donnery sponsored and passed a resolution to

commence an investigation of The Valley View Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation and the Orange County Government Center.  Many witnesses testified, and much information was obtained. These were the primary reasons that the Legislature subsequently voted to renovate the structure. 

Witnesses testified that the walls never leaked and the roof only leaked after years of neglect. Bob Miklos, from Design Labs, testified about the costs of the renovation and confirmed, once and for all, that the renovation would be much cheaper than new construction. 

Amazingly, the following year, Design Labs was included as part of the team to do the renovation. 

I couldn’t have been more pleased. I felt that having a person of integrity involved in the design and construction would make a huge difference. 

In June, 2014 Jeff Berkman (then Minority Chair) asked me to attend an emergency Leadership meeting in his absence. Clark revealed that SHPO had showed great displeasure with certain aspects of the design. 

It appeared as if we would have to scrap the project, but a subsequent conference call with Berkman, Kemnitz and Wong seemed to suggest that SHPO would work with us and we need not be concerned. 

But those in power moved forward and a plan to side-step SHPO and secure a lesser amount of the FEMA monies was devised. It was much later that we found out Design Labs was excluded from the decision-making process from that point, and in August of 2014 they sent a resignation letter to Clark citing extreme ethical reasons for his departure. 

The legislature was not told of Design Labs’ departure. Berkman found out in October when he called Miklos to ask a question. 

When the previous County Executive was making the case for a new building he suggested that the existing building could be demolished, ground up and used for a base for a new building. He stated the cost to be around $3 million.  At that time I challenged him that the cost would be closer to $20 million. 

We now have a firm bid of $7.4 million for demolition of less than one third of the structure. Why was the demolition of Division 2 under-estimated by almost 100%? Could it be, had they had been accurate, that BB+ would not have been selected because the difference between the AB and BB would have been too great for BB to have a chance?  

Chris McKenna wrote a Times-Herald Record article questioning why most of the disciplines [carpentry, masonry, concrete, structural steel, architectural woodwork, finish carpentry, bathroom accessories, etc.] were so much higher than the Claire T. Carney Library Project at Dartmouth/UMass.. We should have been focused on why the demolition was so low. 

Several weeks ago, the Legislature was informed that the project had grown from 180,000 square feet to 205,000 square feet. This additional 25,000 square feet is a 14% percent increase in size - or ten of my houses. The plan that we voted on and approved was for 180,000 square feet and the costs of renovating Divisions 1 and 3, demolishing Division 2 and an addition of 61,000 square feet. 

The addition is now 86,000 square feet and a fourth floor has been added. 

Many, including some Legislators and employees, have claimed that the costs have gone down even though the square footage has increased!  My many years in construction, and the reader’s common sense, say you cannot increase the size of the building and decrease the costs. If the building increases in square footage, it increases proportionately in costs. 

The number that actually went down is the bonding estimate for the project. This is a number that I always claimed was highly inflated, with a twenty percent contingency added to it. Recently they have decreased the contingency percentage. 

Just doing what I’m told 

Coincidentally, Clark offered a position in his company to the chairman of the committee that had oversight on the project. 

Clark should be fired for offering a job to a Legislator and making numerous mistakes. When Clark is asked about some of the changes that he’s made he responds, “I’m just doing what I’m told”.  When asked who is telling him to make these changes, he just shrugs. 

But this points to something more ominous. 

I don’t think that the Legislature should micro-manage projects - and I have no interest being involved in carpet, tile, colors or even hardware or bath accessory choices - but on all major decisions that involve large amounts of taxpayer money, the debate should be thorough and the outcome clear. 

This isn’t happening in the Building Committee, nor is it happening in the Physical Services Committee. And the reason it’s not happening is because a few are controlling the decision-making under the radar, in the back room in a manipulative and inappropriate manner. 

I’m pleased to report that we have a new chairman of the Physical Services Committee who has agreed to allow me some time in the upcoming session to present my case. 

I would ask the Orange County Democratic Committee to join me in this outrage.  Tax dollars and time are being wasted as we are forced to deal with the actions of those who think it’s okay to manipulate the system and produce inaccurate data and reports to achieve the results that suit their misguided opinions.

From Myrna Kemnitz, Orange County Legislator, on the Paul Rudolph building, March, 2015

The following people and institutions have taken the time to speak at hearings, send Letters to the Editor and to Orange County Legislators, and  fight for clarity and fiscal common sense in this time of our County’s unbalanced budget.  Among their numbers are architects, historians, fiscal analysts, and clear-sighted, clever people. 

The names and institutions listed represent the most heavy-hitting  and intellectually sound thinkers who value the lessons we can learn from history, the reasons not to waste it;  indeed, to build on it, repurposing if we must. 

The compilation is by Nancy Hull Kearing.

Greg Marcangelo, The Library of Congress, who  provided photographs of Paul Rudolph's architecture

Ford Petards 

Liz Waytkus, DOCOMOMO -- Dedicated to Preserving Modern Architecture

Theo Prudon, Director of DOCOMOMO 

Jay DiLorenzo - President, National Trust For Historic Preservation 

Leigh Ivey, National Trust For Historic Preservation:  "Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places" 

The New York State Preservation League 

George Bagge of Middletown, Supervisor of Construction for the County for 33 Years

Robert Habig, Architect who worked on original building plans 

William Krattinger, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation 

Kathleen LaFrack  

Andrew S. Dolkart, Director, Historic Preservation, Columbia University 

Sean Khorsandi, Co-Director of Paul Rudolph Foundation

Dan Webre, Co-Director of Paul Rudolph Foundation 

A. Jane Johnston, Newburgh Advocate reporter 

Jergen Wekerle, OCGC 

David Fixler, Principal, Design and Preservation, EYP Architecture & Engineering 

Jean and Cushman May,  Historians 

Fred Isseks, Chorley School 

Dawn Ansbro, Director, Orange County Arts Counsel 

Nancy Proyect, President, Orange County Citizens Foundation 

Daniel  Mack, Trustee, Orange County Citizens Foundation

Barry Bergdoll, Curator of Architecture, Museum of Modern Art 

Rick Bell, Executive Director, American Institute of Architects, NYC 

Erin Tobin, Preservation League of New York State 

Frank Sanchis III, Director of United States Program, World Monuments Fund @013  Watch List  

Joseph Giovannini,  Architecture Critic, New York Times Architectural Record 

Michael J. Newhard, Mayor, Village of Warwick, NY 

Roberta Lane, National Trust For Historic Preservation 

Vince Ferri, Activist 

Frank Carbone, Construction 

Frank Fornario, Orange County Legislator

Roxanne Donnery, Orange County Legislator

Myrna Kemnitz, Orange County Legislator

Matt Turnbull, Orange County Legislator

Jeffrey Berkman, Orange County Legislator

Roseanne Sullivan, Orange County Legislator 

Michael Sussman, Attorney

Earnst Wagner, Associate of Paul Rudolph

J. Paul Loether, National Historic Landmarks Program

Konrad Von Appen, Professor of Architecture, SUNY Orange [Middletown]

 Where do we go from here?

From the “My View” opinion column in the Times Herald-Record July 23, 2014

By Matt Turnbull, Orange County Legislator representing Hamptonburgh, Washingtonville and New Windsor

I did not vote for the BB option design for the Orange County Government Center [OCGC].  I always thought it went too far in defacing the building. The two Democrats on the ad hoc building committee weren’t even aware that the rib face block was being removed in its entirety. Seems that the secret meeting had secrets being kept from some on the committee. And this at a cost of several million dollars to the tax payers of Orange County. The reason given? There might be mold inside the walls.

Are you kidding me?   

The other reason I voted against this option was the obscene price tag.  I thought a renovation project should cost no more than $300 a square foot including everything. That would have put it at around $45 million for a straightforward renovation that would have provided a safe, comfortable, energy efficient and ADA compliant environment for workers and clients. The fact that the BB option ended up at $74 million and over $400 per square foot is something that everyone should be concerned about. 

Why?  Because there are no buildings anywhere that I can find that cost that much money. 

Generating a budget number at $400 per square foot and claiming success when it comes in 5% under that number can only be described as a scam and a waste of precious tax dollars.

I will continue to fight to reduce the cost of this project to something more in line with industry standards. I will also fight to preserve the building along the guidelines outlined by the agencies with oversight on historic buildings.  I would support placing the building in a Local Development Corporation with a preservationist at the helm and designing a new building. The new building would have a much smaller footprint since the ratio of new-for-usable space is much more generous than the OCGC would have been. It would only have to be 140,000 total gross square footage to equal the same usable net produced in the BB option - and at $300 per square foot it would cost the tax payer of Orange County $42 million - a savings of $32 million dollars over the BB option. 

But I don’t give this common sense approach much chance of garnering support. Common sense is not a popular thing these days around here. And by the way, it would require a two-thirds vote to place the OCGC in a Local Development Corporation.





The Orange County Government Center Building has been closed by Executive Order since the fall of 2012. Rather than blindly submit to wasteful Republican demolition plans, our Democratic Caucus worked diligently to implement cost effective alternatives. Former County Executive Diana urged demolition of the entire historic building that Paul Rudolph designed, initially suggesting that the cost of his plan would be $125 million. After further analysis cost estimates increased to $136 million!  

From the beginning of this process the Democratic Caucus had a different vision. Rather than blindly submit to wasteful Republican demolition plans, we supported substantial re-purposing and renovations for the adaptive reuse of the building.

After studies, investigations, and extensive debate we convinced a majority of the legislature to renovate Divisions 1 and 3. Compromises generally do not satisfy everyone but are required in a democracy in order to move forward. The Democrats fought to the very last minute to save taxpayer money on this project. All members of our Caucus were convinced that the $67 million building construction estimate (including built-in 20% for overruns) was excessive. We managed to reduce $3 million from bond authorization before Legislative approval was finally granted. The design costs were agreed upon more than a year earlier. While compromises are not perfect, we can take pride in the significant savings which resulted from the unified efforts of the Democratic Caucus.

The bottom line is that our commitments of saving taxpayer dollars, historic preservation, and environmental protection has led to saving about $70 million from original proposals, with the new plan saving approximately 75% of the Rudolph designed structure.

Our Democratic Caucus has led the way in providing construction jobs, creating government efficiencies, and will provide an improved business future for Goshen and all of Orange County.

From the May, 2014 Orange County Democratic Committee Bulletin




The Democratic Party saved the taxpayers of Orange County at least $75 million from the original Diana proposal to tear down the Orange County Government Center  - and at least $30 million from the most recent proposal.

Republicans are trying to promote the myth that the final renovation plan is almost as much as the second plan to build new. But they are not comparing apples to apples. 

There is an additional 20% of “overrun costs” built in to the renovation plan which had not been included in the new construction plans. Neither were the costs of the expanded parking and drainage repair. And the renovation project includes some new construction as well and has over 5,000 more square feet than the smaller two projects.  Now it’s up to the Democrats in the County Legislature to make sure that the built-in overruns are not a sure thing and that we get the biggest bang for the buck.

- Jonathan Jacobson, OCNYDems Committee Chair

May, 2014 Orange County Democratic Committee Bulletin


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • David Lindsay
    commented 2018-01-08 16:51:58 -0500
    Too much old news on this website , issues are 2-3 years old. We need current information on current events.