Altamont board to decide on future of historic Crounse House

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Original details such as a handmade door and hand-planed moldings and baseboards can be seen on the second floor of the Crounse House, as can significant deterioration. In the room at right, a newer ceiling added later in the house’s life has collapsed, exposing the original lathe for a plaster ceiling.

ALTAMONT — The future of the 19th-Century Crounse House hangs in the balance as the village board decides whether to re-roof in order to save it.

At its Jan. 5 meeting, the board heard from a resident who said the house isn’t worth saving, having been remodeled many times over the years, and also heard from a Civil War enthusiast who said it should be preserved as one of the few places in the North that was part of the war’s history.

The Federal-era house, located on a rise at the corner of Route 146 and Gun Club Road, is just outside the village line in the town of Guilderland. It was built by Altamont’s first doctor, Frederick Crounse, who treated wounded Civil War soldiers from his medical office there.

The town and the village together purchased the Crounse House from the county a decade ago for about $40,000 in back taxes. It has been empty for three decades and has suffered significant damage over the last few years due to a compromised roof. Village officials are considering whether they should put on a new roof in order to forestall further damage, while continuing to discuss what to do with the property long-term.

The village received a promise of a special legislative grant for $25,000 for a new roof, through the efforts of Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy and Senator George Amedore.

The board cannot simply approve going ahead with the roof work because, as Mayor James Gaughan explained at the Jan. 5 meeting, a recent survey discovered asbestos in parts of both the roof and the siding.

The board has several options before it:

— 1. Approve the current estimate from its engineering company, Barton & Loguidice, for asbestos abatement, which would be about $38,900 for asbestos abatement, re-roofing, and any stabilization of the structure that is necessary in order to do the roof;

— 2. Send out another request for bids on the re-roofing project that would include asbestos abatement; or

— 3. Simply authorize Barton & Loguidice to complete, for $3,200, a structural engineering report on the property that will give the village board more information as it considers long-term plans.

Gaughan noted that this estimate would leave the village with a deficit of “$13,000 and possibly more.”

Rich Straut of Barton & Loguidice mentioned that village officials had asked at one point about simply nailing a new metal roof over the existing shingles as a temporary measure, but said that the law doesn’t allow that. “You can’t put a nail or a screw through asbestos,” he said. The asbestos abatement needs to be completed first, before the roof can be addressed.

Village Trustee Kerry Dineen said that she thought that the first step, before addressing the roof, needed to be getting a structural analysis done. She asked Straut to confirm that asbestos was found in the siding in the part of the house that needed to be stabilized. He said that it was, and confirmed that, in order to do any stabilization of the structure, asbestos would need to be removed from the roof and also from any siding that would be disturbed.

Dineen also asked if these pre-roofing costs could be covered with the grant, and Gaughan said that it was his understanding that they could.

Gaughan asked if there were any temporary way to avoid further water damage, such as putting a tarp over the building, and Straut said that he would look into it. Straut noted that any tarp would have to be fastened to a place where there is no asbestos.

Kristin Casey of Main Street asked if it would be possible, in order to save money, to focus work only on the parts of the house that are salvageable — she noted that it may turn out that only the main, original building is salvageable. And she questioned the cost estimate for the analysis from Barton & Loguidice, saying, “If somebody told me it was going to cost $3,200 to get a structural report on my house, I would want to get some other bids.”

Dean Whalen, who is a village trustee and an architect, answered her, saying that it’s not easy to work on just part of the house because the parts are interconnected; if one part is stabilized and the rest is not, the untouched part, when it collapses, can bring down the original building with it.

Jack Pollard, owner with his wife of the Home Front Café on Main Street and one of the principals in Pollard Excavating, said that costs are higher for work done for a municipality than they might be for an individual, since municipalities are held to strict regulations.

Pollard suggested putting up a new structure and simply saving the entranceway and possibly the staircase. “If you go down there and go through the building,” he said, “you’ll find it’s been rehabbed three or four times since the day it was built. It does not look on the inside anything like it did when it was built.”

He said that if people want a museum, the village should build a new building, and that what counts is the things inside the museum, rather than the building that houses them.

In response to a question about the cost of demolishing the structure, Gaughan said that abatement would still need to be done beforehand, and, in that case, he believed the $25,000 grant could not be used.

Whalen cautioned residents against going to see the building out of curiosity. He said that there are “very hazardous conditions” apart from the asbestos in the building now, and cautioned against trying to get village officials to show it, saying, “Please do not go in that building.”

Bob Keough, a representative of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, stood and said that he had brought with him a resolution passed by his chapter of the organization, the George L. Willard Camp 154, stating that they would like to see the building, or as much of it as possible, preserved.

Keogh said that there are “very few places in the North where we know Civil War events happened,” and that Dr. Crounse is known to have treated soldiers, at his clinic on the property, on their way to and returning from the war. He noted that his wife, Dorothy Crounse, is a descendant of the family.

Keogh concluded, “When history is destroyed, it’s gone.”

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard new Fire Chief Paul Miller introduce the new officers who were present: First Assistant Chief Kyle Haines, Captain Thomas Tubbs, and First Lieutenant Laura Tubbs;

— Heard Police Chief Todd Pucci remind residents that, if anyone should need emergency shelter at any point during the winter, the Village Hall/Community Room is available for that purpose;

— Resolved to hold the next general Village Special Election on March 15, 2016, at the Village Hall/Community Room, 115 Main Street, from noon to 9 p.m. Gaughan pointed out that there have been two appointments over the past year, and that the two appointees, if they wish to continue in their positions, will need to run; the two are Justice James R. Greene and Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf; and

— Authorized Gaughan to sign a shared service agreement for emergency assistance with the New York State Department of Transporation, as recommended by Jeffrey Moller, superintendent of Public Works; Gaughan and Whalen explained that the agreement would make it easier for the village to borrow state equipment, in emergencies, more quickly, and with a minimum of paperwork.

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