Press-Republican

March 31, 2013

Burke plans new court

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — BURKE — Something good may come from a fire that destroyed a Burke wood-stove business last year.

The town might buy the property for its new courthouse.

The Burke Town Council made an offer recently to buy a 1.65-acre parcel west of the Town Garage at the corner of Route 11 and Callahan Road that once housed North Country Stoves and Outdoor Power Products.

The business, owned by Terry Collins, and a rental home next door were destroyed by fire April 2, 2012.

The town hopes to have an answer by its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, said Town Council member Arnold Lobdell.

RENOVATION REQUIRED

The existing courthouse at the Town Hall on Depot Street needs handicap accessibility for the second floor, repairs to the roof, new windows and energy-efficiency upgrades.

Lobdell said the Town Council felt purchase of the Route 11 land could be the best option.

The property, including a 20-year-old double-wide manufactured home and garage there, is listed for $117,500 by North Country Realty.

“There’s still a livable residence there,” Lobdell said. “It will come off the tax rolls for town purposes, but the property owners plan to rebuild their home in town, so we’d have that to put on the tax rolls for equal value.”

If the town is able to buy the Collins property, it will still need to add fireproof storage space for town records and renovate the doublewide and garage for office space for the judge and assessor, Lobdell said.

The new site could give the town 30 to 50 years of added life for a courthouse and records storage, he said.

FOUR OPTIONS

A public hearing was held to get input on which of four options might be the best for a new courthouse.

One idea under consideration was construction of a new building on land the town already owns east of the Town Garage.

According to Engineer John Carr, a 40-by-80-foot site would cost about $435,000. If just half were finished, it would be about $382,000, and if just a building shell were constructed, it would cost $240,000.

Two other options proposed at the public hearing — purchase of the former U.S. Border Patrol building on Route 11, listed at $197,500, and renovations and improvements at the existing Town Hall — were rejected as too costly.

Lobdell said that if the town is unable to reach a deal with Collins, it will revisit the option of new construction.

But town officials would want a lot more information about possible bank rates and federal-loan programs and figures from Assessor Jim Gonyo on the potential tax impact on property owners.

THICK, BLACK SMOKE

Lobdell said the Collins property is “an excellent location” on busy Route 11, which was a factor that made fighting the fire that destroyed the building a year ago more challenging for volunteer firefighters as well as some motorists that day.  

Thick, black smoke fanned by wind gusts to 25 mph poured south across Route 11 that afternoon.

Even as firefighters from 15 departments tried to reach the spot and direct traffic in zero visibility, several vehicles — including tractor trailers — continued driving blindly west toward Malone.

Traffic was finally shut down, and no one was hurt, but neither the business nor the rental home could be saved.

Investigators determined the fire got its start in the exhaust hood of a wood-stove boiler in a rear addition to the building.

Both buildings were torn down and hauled away, leaving the vacant lots.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com