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Neglected transformer vaults to cost county $150,000 to repair

An emergency repair to crumbling electric transformer vaults in the sidewalk behind the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center is expected to cost Erie County $150,000 to fix.

National Grid notified the county in March that it must fix the problem or risk an "extended outage" to the convention center if the vaults collapse.

"Currently, these vaults are structurally in very poor shape and National Grid personnel will only enter these vaults under extreme emergency due to safety concerns," Daniel J. Malek, consumer representative for National Grid, wrote in a March 8 letter to County Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo. "One wall under the roadway, in the empty vault, has collapsed and the roof beams are extremely rusted and in need of total replacement."

The county has placed barriers around the vaults on Pearl Street as a safety precaution. County officials expect to make the repairs during a four-day period in August or September.

"Essentially, what they're telling us is, it's in disrepair," said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and chief executive officer of Visit Buffalo Niagara. "If you have a catastrophic failure, it's going to take a year to fix."

Officials from the county and the visitors bureau had planned to spend $500,000 this year on renovations to the convention center that included replacing the carpet in the building's first-floor ballroom and removing asbestos in flooring materials in some meeting rooms that also will be carpeted.

That work will proceed, Gallagher-Cohen said, and money for the emergency transformer repair will come out of a separate county fund set aside for code compliance work on county-owned properties.

The County Legislature last week authorized County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to hire DiDonato Associates, Watts Architecture & Engineering and BHNT Architects for design work for convention center projects to repair the transformer vault, remove asbestos and replace flooring.

The county owns and is responsible for the vaults. National Grid is responsible for the electrical equipment inside.

The project to replace the ballroom carpet is part of a multiyear plan to upgrade the convention center, which in recent years has included $7 million in renovations to the exhibit hall and an upgraded kitchen.