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« Brain food from the heartland

John reardon's letter,plus...

By Louie b. Free (Contact)


Published August 13, 2007

EDITOR:

Your coverage of the Ohio Valley Mall v. Mahoning County Commissioners trial sensationalized my opposition (and that of other county officials) to the Oakhill project. You and the officials that supported the project have implied that our resistance was contrived with the former JFS landlord to protect that companyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s business interests. That is absolutely untrue.

Nothing new came from trial testimony. For a year Ixc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2ve admitted that I met with individuals from the Cafaro Company (and many others) to discuss Oakhill and its ramifications. Ixc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2ve also stated that we shared a goal of stopping the projectxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dthough not necessarily for the same reasons.


I fear that Oakhill will become a boondoggle, painfully funded for decades by Mahoning County taxpayers. I believe there has been little due diligence or financial planningxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dand that the long-term costs of purchasing, renovating, occupying and maintaining the building are unknown and will greatly exceed any official xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93estimatesxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d that have been provided.

In 1978 the Portage County Commissioners purchased the former Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna for conversion to an administration building. Those favoring the Oakhill acquisition had cited the xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93successxc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d of Ravennaxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s hospital-turned-office project, so last year Commissioner McNally, Auditor Sciortino and I had a look. We found anything except a success story; in fact, we found a building that has been problematic and cost their taxpayers dearly.

The projects are strikingly similar. Both buildings date to the 1930s, with additions through the early 1970s. The impetus for both projects was a space need for Jobs & Family Services.

There are also differences. Arguably their building was in better shape in 1978 than ours is in 2007. Clear title to their building cost $1.00; ours could cost over $1 million. 1970xc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s building code compliance was less costly than today, including hazardous materials abatement. And their renovation labor was free to the county, courtesy of the federal governmentxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s CETA program. t

Our visit confirmed what Ixc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2d already suspected: Old concrete buildings are not conducive to todayxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2s wiring needs; asbestos abatement is challenging; unexpected costs abound; upkeep is labor-intensive and costly; utilities are expensive; effective security is difficult; and the unexpected loss of old equipment like elevators and boilers creates significant logistics challenges.

Mostly I learned that our proposed $50 per square foot investment will affect a cosmetic-only renovation. After originally doing the same, theyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2ve spent decades trying to xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93make it right.xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d They continue to renovate, department-by-departmentxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9din effect starting overxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dat a cost in recent years of $135 to $150 per square foot. Notably, they havenxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t yet refurbished their JFS offices, so the most expensive construction is yet to come. xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93If youxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2re going to do this, do it right up-front,xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d they admonished.

Part of my Oakhill objection is that we havenxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t considered any options. I testified at trial that my preference would have been a brand new JFS building. Ixc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2ve said that all along, as many can attest. With new construction we could have designed functional space, contributed to Downtown revitalization, lowered maintenance and utility expenses, and produced equity for the countyxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dall at a known cost. But The Vindicator has not reported those statements, perhaps because new construction wouldnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t benefit the interests of the former JFS landlordxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x80x9dtherefore not supporting the notion that I was xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc5x93told what to do.xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2x9d

I am capable of independent thinking. My background is in business and economics, and I didnxc3xa2xe2x82xacxe2x84xa2t need anyone to point out the incredible lack of planning with Oakhill. My questions were not unfounded.

ttttttSincerely,

ttttttJohn B. Reardon


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