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Colecraft site becomes a political issue

A Walden Avenue building once viewed as the perfect home for Lancaster's Police Department remains essentially vacant five years after the Town Board purchased it for $1.85 million.

It is a sore point being raised with increasing frequency at Town Board meetings by citizens and politicians alike. This fall, the former Colecraft furniture plant at 3949 Walden has also been a campaign hot button.

"No one wants to admit they made a mistake," said Councilman Daniel J. Amatura. "We've been sitting on this building for five years. The town pays $90,000 every year for it in debt service."

Annual utility bills for the 76,000-square-foot building hike the figure for holding on to it even higher, he said.

"It really galls me," said Lancaster resident Lee Chowaniec, who has raised the issue several times at board meetings.

"Taking this property off the tax rolls and spending money to repair and maintain this building . . . was -- and continues to be -- absurd and a waste of taxpayer money."

Interviews this week with all four members of the board indicate that they think it's high time to get rid of the building.

Amatura on several occasions this year has publicly urged Supervisor Robert H. Giza to get the Colecraft building appraised, put it up for bid and be done with it, because it is clear that the town no longer plans to use it for the Lancaster police force and the town's court system.

It hasn't happened.

For five years, the building has been used for storing equipment the town previously stored outdoors. It also houses offices for about 12 town employees -- the police Detective Division and support staff, Amatura said.

The majority of Lancaster police operations remain concentrated on Pavement Road, crammed into an aged building. Marianne Scime, the Republican challenger to incumbent Councilman John M. Abraham Jr., calls the 2003 purchase of the Colecraft building "ill-conceived" and said a schedule should be set for returning it to the tax rolls and moving forward with a new police facility.

Abraham, who did not sit on the board that voted to purchase the Colecraft building in 2003, told The Buffalo News this week that he wants to see it sold now, too.

"I think you'll see some movement on this soon," he predicted.

Five years ago, the town and the Village of Lancaster decided to merge police operations, and they voted to chip in $7,500 apiece to have a company study the Colecraft building and other possible alternatives for a joint police station.

When it was disclosed that the town had inked a purchase agreement for the Colecraft facility, a lawsuit was brought by angry Lancaster residents demanding that Giza and members of the board pay back taxpayer money for the feasibility study.

The lawsuit was dismissed in July 2006, but bad feelings lingered, Stempniak pointed out.

Giza has said publicly that costs to renovate the Colecraft building turned out to be much higher than the town anticipated.

"To be honest," he said during a Town Board meeting earlier this month, "we are looking at a site on Pavement Road that we own [to build a new police facility].

e-mail: iliguori@buffnews.com