Oakhill renovation money nearly gone

Published: Wed, August 28, 2013 @ 12:10 a.m.

Just $7,830 of $15.5M unspent or uncommitted

Oakhill Balance Sheet

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Oakhill Balance Sheet

By Peter H. Milliken



The Oakhill Renaissance Place renovation project is financially tapped out.

Of $15,487,821 in funding for the Oakhill Renaissance Place renovation project, only $7,830 remains unspent or uncommitted, Carol McFall, chief deputy Mahoning County auditor, told the county building commission overseeing the project.

For the most part, “the project is out of cash,” McFall said. “We can work on things that we’ve identified, but then, there will be no more work after that point unless we get some other form of revenue,” McFall said Tuesday.

The bulk of the project has been paid for with $14,540,000 in borrowed money, on which $5,901,900 in interest will have to be paid over 20 years, for a grand total of $20,441,900 in combined principal and interest, McFall said.

The county is paying a combined total of $1.29 million annually in principal and interest on the Oakhill debt, she said.

“We cannot put our county in any more debt for anything right now,” said Carol Rimedio-Righetti, chairwoman of the county commissioners.

John Logue, building commission chairman, said the six-member commission should be dissolved now that the project has reached “substantial completion.”

The county bought Oakhill — the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center — in 2006 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Oakhill houses the county’s Department of Job and Family Services, including the Child Support Enforcement Agency; board of elections; veterans’ service commission; auto title department; recycling division; coroner’s office; and record storage for the auditor’s office.

Renovation costs on McFall’s list included $477,120 for JFS (including the CSEA); $200,000 for the veterans’ service commission; $339,600 for the board of elections; $566,020 for the recycling division; and $211,152 for the auto title department.

Besides renovations for individual departments, the Oakhill project has included $1.5 million for new roofing; $3.5 million for new boilers; $3.1 million for new chillers; $401,237 for a new fire-alarm system; and $150,043 for parking-lot improvements.

McFall said the county cannot pay renovation costs for nonprofit organizations relocating to Oakhill.

Two nonprofit organizations are prospective tenants: Lifebanc, which would recover tissues from cadavers for transplantation, and the Purple Cat, which would operate the former hospital cafeteria.

Bringing for-profit companies to Oakhill would jeopardize the building’s tax-exempt status, McFall said.

McFall said the county has paid off a $10,000 mechanics lien, a $436,000 Ohio Department of Development loan and $454,101 in real-estate taxes, all pre-dating the county’s purchase of the complex for $75,000.

McFall’s report did not include a tally of income from Oakhill occupants that pay rent to the county: the Youngstown Health Department, JFS, the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, the recycling division, the auto title department and the Ursuline Sisters’ Comprehensive Care Center.

Logue said Oakhill renovations have averaged between $30 and $35 per square foot, which is far less than the original $50 per square foot budget.

Tracie Kaglic, project manager with Olsavsky-Jaminet Architects, said all renovation bids came in below her estimates.

The county coroner and city health department would have been evicted from Oakhill during the bankruptcy if the county hadn’t bought it, Logue said. According to Vindicator files from 2006, Dr. David Kennedy, county coroner, estimated it would cost $2 million if the coroner’s office and morgue had to leave Oakhill and build a new facility.

Before JFS moved to Oakhill in 2007, the county was paying $449,000 a year in rent, not including utility and maintenance costs, for the Garland Plaza JFS offices, whose roof leaked. Garland Plaza is on the city’s East Side.

McFall acknowledged the condition of Garland wasn’t good, but she added the federal government paid the Garland occupancy costs in full.

Even though the county vacated Garland more than six years ago, it still spends more than $700,000 annually to lease or sublease space for a multitude of county government functions, namely the county board of health and its lab, its lead-abatement office, four part-time area courts, its planning commission and building-inspection office, its mental health board, board of alcohol and drug addiction services, and children services group homes.

County Commissioner David Ditzler said no private-sector investor would have found the investment in Oakhill renovations feasible, and only government would have taken a loss on such a project.

Ditzler said a new county office building could have been built for $20 million, but Logue said the county didn’t have the money to build a new building in 2006 and that a new $20 million building wouldn’t have been big enough to meet the county’s needs for JFS alone.

Only three members of the six-member building commission attended the meeting: Logue, Righetti and Ditzler. Absent were C. Robert Buchanan, who Logue said plans to resign from the commission; Atty. David Comstock Sr. and county Commissioner Anthony Traficanti. Five building commission members are required for a quorum.

The building commission members were appointed by the county’s common pleas judges.

Traficanti and then-commissioner David Ludt voted to buy Oakhill seven years ago, with then-commissioner John A. McNally IV dissenting.

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