DIRT, NOT IVY, COVERS THIS CAMPUS

MARK McGUIRE Staff writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Sunday, September 28, 1997

The buildings are old, antiseptic in appearance yet, some say, dirty. One was blamed for a rash of illnesses, and all are in need of major repairs or upgrades. So ask workers at the Governor W. Averell Harriman State Office Building Campus if they would like to move to another site, and they'll all tell you the same thing.


No.


``It is a little hot sometimes, a little cold sometimes, but it is fine,'' said Elizabeth Coppolo, 35, of Schenectady, who works in the notorious state Tax and Finance Building 8. ``I like it right here.''


And she once was overcome by fumes at work.


The old state campus. The decaying state campus. Stop a worker, any worker, and get a complaint.


But tell a worker that a brand new building awaits them, albeit downtown, and watch them balk. This place is great, they'll say all of a sudden, looking out at a sea of cars in the many parkings lots.


``I would never work downtown,'' said Brenda Lukasiewicz, a 29-year-old tax and finance clerk from Glenville. ``The campus is beautiful. It is a nice place to work, generally speaking.''


Yep, great -- at least until you have to go inside.


On a list of 37 buildings owned and maintained by the state Office of General Services, 13 are declared by the agency to be in ``poor condition.'' Of those 13, 12 are at the State Office Campus uptown.


``If you compare it to the latest standard, state-of-the-art buildings, certainly this would be poor,'' said Lou Fazzone, OGS director of utilities management. ``But that's not to say since it's poor it should not be occupied.''


Some OGS officials say the campus gets a bad rap, that the Building 8 ``sick building'' scares of the early 1990s were overblown and cast an unfair shadow on the rest of the 400-plus acre complex. With proper maintenance and some upgrades, the facility could function indefinitely, they say.


But for two years Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has talked about selling off the state buildings to private interests and relocating state employees elsewhere in the Capital Region. He doesn't even care if the workers move out of the city: ``I don't have the space to accommodate that whole campus,'' the mayor said. For him, getting the buildings out of state government's hands and into the private sector -- and thus on the tax rolls -- is the big prize. ``What am I losing?'' he said.


Assemblyman Jack McEneny, whose district includes the campus, favors privatization only in a way that would not result in businesses moving in from other sites within the region. But he agrees with Jennings: The campus is an idea -- a bad idea -- whose time has come and gone.


``The only thing it gives Albany is no taxes, air pollution and traffic,'' said McEneny, who this month lost a primary to unseat Jennings. ``It is one of the worst examples of 1950s planning, the type of planning that killed cities.''


And now the beginning of the end of the State Office Campus may be at hand, at least as an all-public complex. On Aug. 27, Jennings and Gov. George Pataki announced a plan that could eventually lead to at least four campus buildings being sold off. Others will be rehabilitated.


``The state will continue to have a presence there,'' Pataki said. ``But to the extent there is private interest in taking one or more of those buildings, putting it on the tax roll and bringing more private sector jobs to complement the public jobs to Albany, we would certainly listen.''


The campus sprang up from the outskirts of the Pine Bush during the administration of Gov. Averell Harriman, whose name graces the Western Avenue entrance. But like most of the state properties in the Capital Region, the majority of it was constructed during the mortar-and-concrete-crazy Rockefeller years.


The oldest office is Building 1, housing the Department of Civil Service, which opened for work in 1956. The last to open was the State Police Forensics Center, in 1996. Not counting the forensics center, the average age of the buildings is a shade under 34 years old.


Think of a typical house that is 30-plus years old. It needs a new roof. Plumbing. Wiring. The oil burner is ready to go. Now picture a house that is roughly 1,300 times larger, and you have the State Office Campus.


The price tag to rehab the whole place: $330 million, minimum, so says the state Office of General Services.


The complaints are legion. The buildings aren't very clean. They are impersonal. Repairs are haphazard: Bathroom sinks often have mix-and-match fixtures. Because it's a Herculean effort to turn on and off the heat or air conditioning, cool summer days leave workers shivering and balmy winter ones leave them sweating.


A walk through Building 8 reveals the lack of aesthetics and ergonomics, a study in 1950s function over form. In areas yet to be renovated, ratty rugs with rips covered with duct tape lay over old-style tile floors. Workspaces are cramped.


Outside, gray and glass dominate the view. The occasional lawn sculpture offsets bland buildings that don't attract any of the tourists who visit the state's downtown edifices. Wind can whip between the buildings the way it does through Manhattan's concrete canyons, although the uniformity of the structures and the layout of the campus screams suburbia.


But the campus has advantages. Unlike downtown offices, where many workers have to be shuttled by bus from outlying areas, parking is more than ample. The variety of trees liberally spread over lawns prompted a State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill student to study them, one worker said. Vendors offer a variety of lunch options, and the sprawling grounds are a haven to lunchtime walkers, joggers and sun-worshipers.


However, in the eyes of many officials, those assets aren't worth their cost. In turn, those officials may empty four buildings within the next four years. In a move that will start the dominoes, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Environmental Facilities Corp. will move from Colonie to a new Broadway building, bringing almost 1,800 jobs to downtown Albany.


Those moves will affect the campus: After DEC's Wolf Road headquarters undergoes two years of renovations, the state Department of Transportation will move there from four buildings at the campus. The 9,400 work force on the campus will contract by 1,700 as a result of the move.


Various state agencies will fill the void left by DOT, rotating in and out while their own deteriorating buildings are rehabbed.


The state Office of General Services said the series of moves would save the state about $30 million in rehabilitation costs, and another $56 million in avoided costs that would have gone into fixing up the buildings that now will be sold.


Another $10 million to $20 million is expected to be realized by the sale of the extra campus buildings.


The campus is located at the crossroads of state Route 85 and I-90. With its own power plant for steam cooling and heat, much of the office park is self-sufficient. At one time it was a jewel.


Now it is just another commercial subdivision, waiting to be divided again. FACTS:STATE OFFICE CAMPUS Formal name: Governor W. Averell Harriman State Office Building Campus Size: 400-plus acres. Number of buildings: 18. Constructed: 1954-95. Opened to the public: 1958. Campus architects: Chas. H. Sells Consulting Engineers, New York State Department of Public Works. Number of employees: 9,400. Gross square feet: 3.2 million. Parking spaces: 7,500, as well as a 1,500-space park-and-ride lot for downtown workers. Miles of road: 20-plus. Miles of sidewalks: 22-plus. Number of streetlights: 1,200-plus. Annual maintenance budget: $7.1 million in fiscal year 1996/97, not counting custodial, grounds or solid waste operations.