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Potsdam planning board reviews new site plan for CPH expansion


POTSDAM - Members of the village’s planning office are disappointed the architects for the expansion of Canton-Potsdam Hospital didn’t keep them in the loop when they decided to change their plans for storm-water runoff.

Prior to the planning board meeting Thursday night, board members had learned of the changes “through conversation” with officials working on the $5.5 million expansion of CPH’s medical office complex at 49 Lawrence Ave.

“You know we spent a lot of time on the storm-water system on this project. We explained, and I think (Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis) explained that we were very concerned about storm-water runoff,” Planning and Development Coordinator Frederick J. Hanss said. “So you can imagine our concern when you come to us with a different plan.”

Stormwater drainage was a concern in the hospital’s original plan, which was approved in October. That plan called for water to be collected both in above-ground ponds and in underground reservoirs, where it would slowly seep back into the soil. The revision eliminates these underground containers, instead increasing the size of the storage ponds.

Construction began while design work was still being done in order to finish the project as quickly as possible, according to Potsdam architect Brooks A. Washburn. This led to the revision of the original site plan, which has sparked the concern of village officials.

Mr. Washburn is acting as a liaison between local officials and the project’s main architects, Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Manchester, N.H.

“As we started site work, we realized we could handle storm-water much better than what we had on paper,” said Randy Vanbrocklin, director of facilities for CPH. “Money was tight on the project and doing this we were able to save while not adding more water to the village’s system.”

Mr. Washburn and Mr. Vanbrocklin met with the planning board only for preliminary discussions on the new site plan. The board tabled the new site plan, as it is awaiting approval from the state’s Department of Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The village also hired GHD Consulting Engineers, Syracuse, to study the proposed system to make sure it would not further tax the municipality’s stormwater flows.

The firm submitted a four-page report to the village’s Planning Board, which asked several questions left unanswered by the hospital’s plans.

“We had some issues that we wanted them to respond to before we accept the design,” Mr. Hanss said.

Board members expressed concern about the low water table near the construction site, pointing out that with the water table at four feet underground a storage pond would be limited to how much water it could store.

Board member Jim Corbett pointed out the land near the AA Kingston Middle School and Lawrence Avenue Elementary School across the road had previously been a wetland and was filled in with dirt to allow the construction of the schools.

If the DEC or Corps of Engineers determine the expansion is being constructed on wetlands the new site plans may not be approved. Mr. Hanss said the storage ponds would be designated a wetland, in which case they would not be permitted to be built on an already existing wetland.

However, the board determined that “the end-result would be the same” with the new site plan, and said they would be willing to approve the revised site plan if it’s given the go-ahead by the DEC and Army Corps of Engineers and if the architect is able to answer the questions raised by GHD.

But board members and village officials maintained they were frustrated with the lack of communication. “Frankly, we’d be much more willing to work with you to work with you if you kept us involved through-out the process,” Mr. Hanss said.

Mr. Washburn said the architect was in a “chicken and the egg” situation, because they first had to receive approval from the DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers before the could proceed with site plans to bring before the planning board.

The revised plan will be able to handle the same volume of water as the original at a lower cost, according to Mr. Washburn. He said he’d always been mindful to not add water to the village’s already-taxed storm-water system.

“We’ve worked with you many times in the past, and we’ve never put a drop of water into the village’s storm-water system,” Mr. Washburn said.

The building’s foundation has been poured, and construction on the steel frame will begin next week. Work began in December and continued through the winter on the expansion project at the former St. Mary’s School.

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