Cost of Luzerne County’s new record storage facility questioned

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected] | September 13th, 2017 10:36 pm

WILKES-BARRE — Another $700,000 can be spent renovating Luzerne County’s new record storage building in Hanover Township now that the county manager’s proposed new capital plan took effect Sept. 1 without council alteration.

This boosts the project’s budget to $2.15 million because the prior capital plan had earmarked $1.45 million to buy and renovate the structure at 85 Young St.

The coroner’s office also provided a $252,600 reimbursement that can be applied to the project, which would up the total available to $2.4 million, county Manager C. David Pedri has said. The office and a new morgue are housed in the building.

To date, the administration has spent or committed $1.9 million — $750,000 to purchase the former U.S. mail facility and another $1.146 million for shelving and construction, flooring, lighting, electrical, and HVAC and plumbing work, according to publicly posted contracts.

County Councilman Rick Williams asked Pedri during a work session this week why the project has exceeded the original $1.4 million projection.

Pedri said he was not manager when that estimate was tallied and does not know “where that number exactly came from.”

“I would say that we have to have a facility, and if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” Pedri said.

The additional capital plan allotment included $500,000 to carve out a space for the public to view records.

“I sure hope it comes in less than $500,000,” Pedri said. “I’m looking at a much smaller number.”

Other additions: resurfacing the warehouse floor and replacing all warehouse lighting with LED fixtures.

Williams asked if the total will be under $3 million. Pedri said yes, but he could not commit to staying below $2 million.

Council agreed to buy the building in 2015 to address a state archives expert’s warning years ago that the leased space in the Thomas C. Thomas building on Union Street in Wilkes-Barre has temperature extremes, lack of security, leaks and fire hazards.

That warning held true. A total 1,701 water-damaged boxes of records and thick docket books had to be removed from the leased building following an Aug. 24 leak. Building owner Thomas C. Thomas identified a faulty sprinkler head as the culprit and said the sprinkler system was properly inspected and maintained. Insurance claims are pending.

The administration had planned to move records into the new building the end of March, but renovation delays pushed back the schedule. An extensive review also was needed to weed out records that can be destroyed under state law, officials said. Some originals must be kept, even if the county has a digital back-up.

“We purged as many documents as we possibly could before we started moving them over,” Pedri told council.

The county has accelerated the movement of records after the leak and informed Thomas it will be vacating the leased building by the end of October.

A fee on recorded deeds that generates around $7,000 per month will cover utility costs for the new facility. The county has been paying $103,104 annually to rent space at the Thomas site.

Bridge funding gone

Pedri’s proposed capital plan automatically went into effect because council did not make changes after questions were raised about the procedures that must be followed under the home rule structure.

As a result, the administration also now has an additional $1.1 million for courthouse restoration on top of $970,000 previously allocated, an $80,000 state Historical and Museum Commission grant and $104,385 from casino gambling revenue.

Connecticut-based John Canning Co. will be paid $2.1 million to restore some art and finishes, repair water-damaged plaster and stabilize the circular stained-glass window atop the dome, which is seriously bowing.

Pedri told council he may eliminate some brass cleaning and other work to stay within budget because this phase must cover all work requiring costly scaffolding. The contractor has identified lighting repairs that may need to be added, he said.

The manager’s new capital plan also removed a $1 million allocation toward the $2 million replacement of the demolished Division Street Bridge over Solomon Creek. Hanover Township residents had urged county officials to restore the earmark, saying loss of the bridge has led to bottlenecks and hazardous driving by motorists cutting through side streets to escape congestion.

Also eliminated in the new plan was a $1.8 million project to scan a combined four decades of civil court records, wills and estate files to make them available online — work Pedri said may be handled in-house by staffers.

Among the projects added by Pedri and now funded: voter machine warehouse repairs, $250,000; courthouse annex repairs, $50,000; reconfiguration of the courthouse west entrance to improve security screening and reduce congestion, $50,000; and elevator repairs and new security doors at the prison, $770,000.

Rick Williams Williams
Luzerne County’s new record storage building at 85 Young St. in Hanover Township is shown at the time the county agreed to buy the property in November 2015. County’s new record storage building at 85 Young St. in Hanover Township is shown at the time the county agreed to buy the property in November 2015. File photo

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.