LITTLE VALLEY — Members of C.A.M.P. (Citizens Advocating Memorial Preservation) felt blindsided Thursday when they learned the Civil War Monument and Historic Building would be demolished.
C.A.M.P. members, led by president Tom Stetz of Allegany, met for what was billed as a work session with the Cattaraugus County Legislature’s Public Works Committee to discuss the group’s preservation efforts.
Stetz was notified by email of the work session by Public Works Commissioner Joseph Pillittere, at the direction of Public Works Committee Chairman William Weller, R-Franklinville.
“The work session will be a discussion among DPW Committee members on all the information presented by C.A.M.P. over the past few months,” Pillittere wrote. “C.A.M.P. will need to be present to clarify information or answer any questions that may arise during the course of the discussions.”
There was little discussion.
County Legislator Richard Lamberson, D-Allegany, a member of the Public Works Committee, read a series of “talking points” that he said represented a consensus of the County Legislature.
A handful of C.A.M.P. members sat passively as Lamberson recited the talking points — until he got to number 5: “The County is interested in a monument to all veterans in Cattaraugus County at the site of this building.”
Number 6 was the clincher, though: “Cattaraugus County will proceed to demolish the building at County cost and on a timetable favorable to the county.”
Lamberson told C.A.M.P. members he had talked to every board member about the issue.
“It’s a tough thing,” he said. “I know you put in a lot of man hours. It’s got to be said: I hate to see you put in any more work if it’s decided.”
Other “talking points” read by Lamberson:
n “The County does not have the ability to sell this property and will not entertain a sale of this property.”
n “The County owns the property and will retain its title.”
n “All actions associated with this property must be approved by the Legislature in writing.”
n “No entity can apply for funding or a status change on behalf of the County without the express written permission of the County.”
n “Cattaraugus County is interested in saving key structural components of the current building for incorporation into a memorial for all veterans.”
n “Cattaraugus County welcomes discussion about these key structural components that would be salvaged and discussion around the design of a new memorial.”
The Public Works Committee held an extended closed-door meeting with County Attorney Mark Howden Wednesday, in which the C.A.M.P. efforts were presumably discussed.
Lamberson indicated a resolution would be submitted for immediate consideration at Wednesday’s final meeting of 2015 to authorize the building’s demolition.
Asked by Weller if anyone from C.A.M.P. had a response, Stetz said, “I didn’t know what to expect. This has taken me by surprise. We feel the memorial should be preserved. Obviously, there is a difference of opinion.”
Stetz, noting the Civil War Monument, dedicated in 1913, recently received national recognition, added, “We’re willing to work with anybody to preserve the monument and the Board of Elections building. ... I think we can find a way to preserve it and to reuse it. We’ve been working very hard on this. We would like to maintain it as a memorial, the way it was dedicated.”
Larry Francer, executive director of the Landmark Society of Western New York, said, “We are very disappointed” and he called the building “a very unique and historic structure.”
He suggested a study to compare the costs of demolishing the building to the cost of preserving it.
The Landmark Society helped C.A.M.P. in its preservation efforts, naming the Civil War Monument and Historic Building to its “Five to Revive” list. The society also paid for half the cost of a study of the building by Clinton Brown, a preservation architectural firm in Buffalo.
That study found the building could be put in condition for its reuse for about $580,000. County officials estimated it could cost $1 million to restore the building, which until 10 years ago, housed the county museum.
“I’m really speechless,” Stetz told the committee. “I felt we were going in a good direction.”
He asked, “What do you get by tearing it down?”
Weller, the committee chairman, said there will be a memorial at the site.
Legislator Paula Stockman, R-South Dayton, a member of the Public Works Committee, said, “If we leave the building, it will cost an exorbitant amount of money to refurbish. … A large reason we are in favor of demolition and creating a new monument is to get out from under the maintenance costs.”
Stockman said the decision “is finance-driven.
Lamberson said the committee made a mistake by not talking with C.A.M.P. earlier. He said he didn’t think the group would be successful in finding funds to renovate the building.
County Administrator Jack Searles said the county had given C.A.M.P. “more time than they requested” to see if they could save the building.
“We were totally blindsided,” Stetz said after the meeting. “There was no discussion. There was an ultimatum.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)