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Decision on sale of Davison Road site awaits more study of demolition costs

It probably will be midsummer, if not later, before the Niagara County Legislature decides whether to place the county's property on Davison Road up for sale.

Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, said last week that data is still being compiled on the cost of demolishing most of the buildings on the parcel, which totals about 90 acres after the county sold two buffer strips to groups of nearby homeowners last year.

The vacant buildings are laced with asbestos, according to Robin A. DeVoe, deputy public works commissioner for buildings and grounds.

DeVoe said Watts Engineering did a small survey of the asbestos situation in January and estimated that it would cost $25,000 for a full-scale survey, complete with laboratory testing.

He submitted an estimate of $600,000 to remove the asbestos and have a private firm tear down the structures, which include the Switzer Building, the former county infirmary that later served as headquarters for the Social Services Department.

DeVoe said the asbestos is contained in everything from floor tiles to wallboard and pipe insulation. Thus, most of it is not likely to escape into the environment.

There is still a possibility that the buildings might be kept standing, said Burmaster, who also is chairman of the Legislature's Public Works Committee.

The purpose of the Public Works Department's inquiries is to help decide "if the [cost] of keeping [the buildings] up is too exorbitant, versus the cost of tearing them down."

If the county decides to maintain the buildings, either for sale or for its own possible future use, they must be maintained. The Switzer Building has a leaky roof, for example.

County Manager Gregory D. Lewis wants to construct a new county office campus to consolidate as many county operations as possible in one Lockport location, and some legislators have said the Davison Road site should be kept for that purpose.

There also are legal issues that must be settled regarding how land was acquired and how it can be sold. For example, there is a century-old paupers cemetery on the site, covering 2.5 acres, that the county probably must keep.

Some smaller buildings are still in use, including two records storage buildings and the headquarters of the county Drug Task Force. The county golf course is adjacent to the parcel the county may sell, and its pump house and maintenance building are on the site.

Burmaster added, "After we get all the investigative work done by midyear, we'd probably have to get it appraised again."

Public Works Commissioner Kevin P. O'Brien said Girasole Appraisal Co. of Niagara Falls estimated the value of the property in 2003 at anywhere between $520,000 and $610,000. That was before the buffer strips were sold.

If demolition is decided upon, the county Refuse Disposal District may use its giant backhoe to knock down some of the smaller buildings.

"There are eight buildings we can take down," Director Richard P. Pope said. The Refuse District owns the largest backhoe of any municipal agency in the county, but it is not big enough to tackle the Switzer Building, the largest of the group.

The Refuse District would ask for payment from the county treasury, but it would be cheaper than hiring a private contractor, DeVoe said.