Niagara County's proposed new office parks are at least five years away, but department heads are already being asked what amenities and facilities they would like to have if they're built.
County Manager Gregory D. Lewis floated a proposal three years ago to spend an estimated $50 million to construct two campuses to consolidate county operations -- one in Lockport and the other somewhere in the western half of the county.
The Lewis proposal dovetailed with a suggestion by Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster that everything but court operations might be forced out of the County Courthouse at Park Avenue and Hawley Street.
Faced with a demand for more court space in Niagara Falls, after growth in Lockport forced several county departments out of the Courthouse, Burmaster said the county has to plan for the growth of the criminal- justice system. This is made more pressing by state mandates and occasional threats to withhold state aid to the county, he said.
"We have no choice. Courts are going to be taking that entire complex over in Lockport at the rate they're growing," said Burmaster, R-Ransomville. "The time is now. There's no doubt about it."
"It's like throwing meat to the lions," said Lewis. "Eventually the lions get hungry and come looking for more."
Burmaster said he always has favored one major campus for courts.
"I don't know why Niagara County's the way it is," he added. "In Erie
County, if you have to go to court, you have to go to downtown Buffalo. You don't have the choice of going to Springville or someplace."
> Scattered buildings
Several county departments moved out of county-owned buildings five years ago because the court system needed more space, and the county is now renting two buildings in downtown Lockport from Roberts Management Group, a Los Angeles company that bought them in 2005 from Ulrich Development Co.
The Board of Elections, the Auto Bureau, Aging, Veterans Services, Probation and the Board of Elections are in the Golden Triangle Plaza at Main and Market streets, and Social Services moved to an Ulrichowned building on East Avenue three years ago after the county closed its Davison Road campus. Part of that property is apparently about to be sold to a Christian school.
The county's Niagara Falls operations are scattered in several buildings, including the Trott Access Center on 11th Street, the Human Resources Building at 10th and East Falls streets and the Angelo DelSignore Civic Center at Third Street and Cedar Avenue.
The county is about to give up rented space for the Niagara Falls Auto Bureau location in Haeberle Plaza on Portage Road, moving it to the Trott Center late this month.
Lewis isn't a fan of renting space or of scattered operations, which is why he suggested building facilities to consolidate operations.
Lewis said the proposed campuses would not affect some departments that have their own headquarters. The Sheriff's Office and Emergency Management functions would remain in the County Jail and the Public Safety Training Center on Niagara Street Extension.
Public Works, whose offices are in the Philo J. Brooks County Office Building on Hawley Street and whose garage is on South Niagara Street, is expected to move to a new headquarters. A site in the Lockport area is expected to be selected later this year, and construction may start next year.
Economic Development and the Industrial Development Agency are concentrated in Vantage Center, the IDA headquarters off Lockport Road in Wheatfield, and that isn't expected to change.
The departments affected by the office campus idea would be those in the administrative and community services sectors of the budget, such as those in the rented space in Lockport. They include financial departments such as Budget, Real Property Services and the treasurer's office, which are in the Brooks Building, and the Health and Mental Health departments, headquartered in the aging Shaw Building on Mount View Campus on Upper Mountain Road.
Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton told the Board of Health late last month that he had a meeting the previous week with Cannon Design, the Grand Island project management firm the County Legislature hired in December, and discussed the size of Health Department offices and his desire for a conference room and perhaps a public gathering space at the new campus.
Lewis said that was part of a half-day meeting March 20 for all the community service departments. Administrative departments also had a half-day with Cannon, he said.
> Projecting needs
Department heads were asked to fill out a form from Architectural Resources, a Buffalo firm that subcontracted the space analysis work, asking them to project the number of employees they'll have in 2015 and also 20 and 50 years from now; whether they will have offices, cubicles or open work spaces; and their needs for public areas, counter space, security provisions, storage, equipment and parking.
This year's capital budget includes $1.5 million to pay for the concept design for the campuses.
"We might see something by September," Lewis said. That will include a suggested site or sites.
Lewis said it's possible there might not be two full-size office parks. He said there could be one in Lockport, with a regional service center, which Lewis said is smaller than a campus but bigger than an outreach center, in the western part of the county.
Asked whether he envisions a large sprawling building or one of several stories, Lewis said, "I'm going to leave it to the architects to do the concept."
But he did say he wants the building to have as open a floor layout as possible, with the opportunity for future expansion, as well as the possibility of changing the interior layout without having to knock down too many walls.
"We don't want to build a lot of walls and have it be a maze," Lewis said.
He said his marching orders to Cannon Design were, "Give us a clear response that the public can discuss and the policymakers can debate."
Cannon was instructed to analyze the use of existing county buildings and the notion of constructing something near the existing county headquarters -- in the county parking lot on Niagara Street, for example.
But a move of county offices out of rented space in the heart of downtown Lockport -- which would require the county to get out of its leases -- might harm some downtown businesses.
"There would definitely be a void," Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. "That would be a longterm project. I'd have to find out a lot more about it."
But he added, "If I was going to argue about the project, I would argue about the impact on the county as a whole, not just the impact on the city."