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Lawsuit Aims To Halt Demolition, Rebuild Of Orange County Government Center

WAMC, Allison Dunne

A lawsuit brought by three Orange County residents against the county executive and a county legislator seeks to halt the demolition of an architecturally significant building. That building, the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, has been the subject of debate for more than three years.

Goshen attorney Michael Sussman represents the plaintiffs. He says the suit seeks injunctive relief to halt the demolition. Sussman also alleges it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

“Waste is a doctrine that’s not frequently utilized, but it exists here because in my view there’s a common purpose, which common purpose is to have a new government center in Orange County,” says Sussman. “And there is a proposal on the table which would accomplish that for between $25 million and $40 million less than the current proposal. There’s no rational reason that I can ascertain not for pursuing that.”

That proposal came from architect Gene Kaufman, who wanted to convert the building into artists’ studios, and build a new, modern government building elsewhere on the property. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who is named in the lawsuit, contends there was not enough support for Kaufman’s plan. Village of Goshen Mayor Kyle Roddey has said that though the village supports the arts, the priority is the return of the county government and its hundreds of employees to the government center. In 2011, Hurricane Irene severely damaged the building. Then County Executive Ed Diana closed the center and relocated the county workers.

In January, Neuhaus vetoed a bill that would have allowed the sale or long-term lease of the building. Legislators earlier in March did not take up the vote to override the veto. Neuhaus says the lawsuit is meritless.

“We anticipated this coming. The initial look at the lawsuit from the attorney’s office was that it’s not going anywhere,” says Neuhaus. “So we’re going to continue to move forward like we always do.”

Neuhaus further criticized Sussman, who launched an unsuccessful bid for county executive in 2001.

“What Mike Sussman’s history is, he’s a failed politician. He ran for office and lost,” Neuhaus says. “What he does is he uses his livelihood to stop any type of any type of progress in the county and other cities.”

Here’s Sussman.

“But I agree entirely with the notion that where government engages in significant misdeeds someone must obstruct the government,” says Sussman. “I’m proud to do it.”

The plaintiffs are Vincent Ferri, of Walkill, who works for Sussman; Central Valley resident Stephan Brander, who worked for now deceased Paul Rudolph, the architect who designed the government center; and Frank Carbone, Jr., of the town of Newburgh, who is a retired facilities maintenance engineer who worked in another Paul Rudolph-designed facility at an IBM site in East Fishkill. Here’s Brander.

“It’s a deliberate destruction of a cultural asset,” Brander says. “And the fact that the Paul Rudolph building in Goshen is listed on the World Monuments Fund list of endangered buildings is not to be taken lightly.”

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne
Stephan Brander

Brander, who did not work with Rudolph on the Orange County Government Center, says he feels an obligation to defend against the demolition of the center on Rudolph’s behalf.

“Buildings represent a time that they are built in, and the time in the 1960s when the government center was designed and opened in 1970 was a very heady time. It represented our idealism. And right now we seem to be looking at a new way of creating smaller government,” says Brander. “Yes, to answer your question, I’m doing this partially in his memory, but partially because it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Sussman also alleges SEQRA, or State Environmental Quality Review Act, violations, saying the expanded renovation plans did not study potential air and noise pollution, and aesthetics.

The suit also names Republican County Legislator Leigh Benton, who last year agreed to pay a fine from the county Board of Ethics for accepting a job with Clark Patterson Lee and failing to properly disclose it. Clark Patterson Lee is the design firm hired for the renovation and expansion of the government center. A request for comment from Benton was not answered in time for this broadcast.

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