Village historic building is the agency’s ‘preferred site’
By Gwendolyn Craig
Unless a feasibility study shows the historic Paul Smith’s Power and Light Building may fall apart or some other insurmountable issue, the Adirondack Park Agency is full steam ahead to move its headquarters from Ray Brook to the village of Saranac Lake.
APA Executive Director Barbara Rice said the 1-3 Main St. building is the agency’s “preferred site.” She ruled out further site searches or renovating the existing office building.
Bergmann and Associates is conducting the feasibility study on the village building for approximately $60,000 so far. Rice hopes the engineering firm’s examinations of utility connections and other logistics will be complete by mid-July. The APA hopes to make its official move by the beginning of 2026.
In early April, the agency revealed that it was mulling the village building for its new offices. The state’s 2022 budget included $29 million for the APA’s headquarters.
Keith McKeever, spokesman for the APA, had said moving to the village “would be a unique opportunity to partner with local government, support a Downtown Revitalization Initiative community, increase accessibility to the public, and restore an existing historic building.”
Rumors have swirled over the move and reactions have been mixed. Letters published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise show some groups, including Adirondack Architectural Heritage and Historic Saranac Lake, are glad the APA wants to fix up the 1927-era building.
Other writers, including Saranac Lake resident Mark Wilson, questioned the move to a building already occupied by the village police. Wilson and other residents also had concerns about losing parking for the village’s farmers market. Some have also wondered why the agency would move away from the state complex where the Department of Environmental Conservation is headquartered.
In an interview Wednesday, Rice shared renderings for the proposed new headquarters. APA plans a 500-square-foot addition to the Main Street building that will include an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevator. The agency expects to hold its monthly meetings and run a visitor interpretive center there.
Along the Lake Street side of the property, Rice said, the agency would fund construction of a 19,000-square-foot office building. Between the two buildings, the agency would increase its available space by a few thousand square feet.
APA would build a 72-space parking lot. The APA’s fleet of 17 vehicles would be stationed there. Rice estimated the parking lot holds 40 spaces now, so there would be a net gain of about 15 spaces. Rice said on nights, weekends and during events, the public will be able to use the lot. The agency will add lighting and stormwater treatment.
The whole complex would be owned by the village and the APA would work out a long-term lease agreement.
“Our enabling legislation does not allow us to own real property so we cannot purchase it,” Rice said. Lease terms are still in the works. The village would also continue to operate and receive renewable energy credits for its hydro facility on the property, Rice said.
The village is working to enhance its river walk that winds along the proposed campus, and Rice said she thinks the agency’s building could become a community anchor.
What will happen to the log building in Ray Brook? It’s too soon for APA staff to say. Rice said the logs, salvaged from blowdown in the 1950s, are decaying. The building loses heat. Mold has been an issue. Bats and other critters have made their way into the offices. Rice said the building does have acceptable air quality and there have been no Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations. There are air purifiers in the offices and common areas, but it’s not “optimal” to work there, Rice said.
The Forest of Heroes, an arboretum the agency has maintained around its building honoring influential Adirondackers, will remain. The arboretum contains 19 trees. Rice said the DEC will continue to keep the area secure.
The executive director does not think the agency’s relationship with the DEC will suffer from moving. Many interactions are now over video conferencing and telephone, she said. And as far as the future of the village police department’s headquarters, Rice said moving the department has been talked about since she served on the Saranac Lake village board.
Saranac Lake Police Chief Darin Perrotte said he was hopeful that the public safety building would come to fruition, but he was not directly involved with the APA’s plans.
Though there are more things to iron out, Rice is enthusiastic about the move. It will bring the agency, she said, “out of the shadows here in Ray Brook.”
“It’s not just a building,” she said. “It really is a transformation.”
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