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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Centralized Human Services Building Vote is Tonight

Ken Mohr and Polaris Properties rep
After yesterday's Finance Committee hearing of Northampton County Council, a centralized Human Services Building for 18,000 people is one step closer to reality. The full Council will vote on a 15-year lease for the property at tonight's meeting.

Located at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township, it's a proposed 3-story, 66,375 sq ft building on 5.36 acres, with 256 parking places. Located between Freemansburg Avenue and William Penn Highway, this "one stop" human services shopping center would replace two aging county-owned buildings in Easton and Bethlehem.

The Governor Wolf Building, located at 45 N 2d St in Easton, is a 52,171 sq ft schoolhouse, built in 1893. Purchased by the County in 1986 for $912,000, it is home to 173 human services workers. It needs $3.3 million in capital repairs and improvements over the next 5-10 years.

The Martin J. Bechtel Building, located at 520 E Broad Street in Bethlehem, is a 28,000 sq ft facility, built in 1962. Purchased by the County in 1993 for $763,000, it houses 70 human services workers. It needs $1 million in capital improvements and repairs over the next 5-10 years.

The plan is to sell the Wolf and Bechtel buildings, and use the proceeds for a lease and option to purchase at Emrick Boulevard. The facility would be built by Polaris Properties by the end of 2013.

Executive John Stoffa calls it a "golden opportunity to do something terrific." He made a pitch for the 18,000 people who need to use Human Services for a host of reasons, although the Exec claimed that most of them have two problems. They;'re lonely and don't have enough money. "They don't have advocacy groups. They don't have PACs. They don't have people speaking for them," Stoffa stated in a rare speech lasting more than two sentences. "This is close to my heart," he explained.

In his first year in office, Stoffa proposed a centralized human services building, but the idea as quickly shot down by a more fractious Council more interrested in playing politics than governing.

Lamont McClure, who will undoubtedly oppose this project, was characteristically absent. But he sent his henchman, Controller Steve Barron, to warn that this is a bad idea. He passed out a memo arguing that we should follow the lead of the federal government, which has learned from experience that buying FBI buildings is better than leasing them.

Barron also claimed that the lease s "very ambiguous" and warned against going down "the road of the swap."

Ken Kraft, a Marine and former spook with some federal agency, dismissed Barron's report. "I worked for the federal government and I had to write 72 pages to get a band-aid," he joked. He chided Barron for attempting to compare FBI buildings with
human services buildings.

Kraft, along with Tom Dietrich, participated in the Committee that arrived at this proposal in a process that started last March. He and consultant Ken Mohr both explained the exhaustive process in reviewing other sites, including the Gracedale campus.

Mohr and Stoffa told Council that the Gracedale campus is not zoned properly for a centralized human services building, and that process would likely take years the County does not have because of the serious state of deterioration at the Wolf Building, where most of the Human Services are housed.

Stoffa noted that, just that day, he had to send everyone home from the Wolf building because the heating system had failed.

Patricia Himmelwright, a 28-year County employee, noted that a nurse had to stop a parent from changing diapers on a child because the building was simply too cold. She stressed that people need an environment in which they can work on their issues.

Her concerns were echoed by John Mahler, who directs the Agency on Aging. He described a ceiling that is collapsing on his staff, as well as a complete inability to use a conference room and stock room because of lead paint contamination. "It's less than an optimum place for us to work," he said.

Kathleen Kelly, who works in mental health at the Bechtel Building, claims conditions there are bad, too. "I do not feel it is a very welcoming place to our consumers," she explained.

Ross Marcus summed up the feeling of county staffers. "We can't keep kicking this can down the road," he said "We need to do something."

As strongly as Stoffa and his staff may feel, they do not make the call. That's Council's job. How do they feel?

In addition to Lamont McClure being MIA, so were lame ducks Barb Thierry and Bruce Gilbert. I know McClure opposes this, primarily because it is Stoffa's idea. I know that Ken Kraft and Tom Dietrich, who were members of the committee vetting this idea, support it.

Peg Ferraro initially had some concerns, calling the proposal "very worrisone." But she seemed genuinely moved by the staffers who talked about conditions at the Wolf and Bechtel Buildings. More importantly, she seemed to be relieved on hearing that the County appraisals for Wolf and Bechtel came in very high.

Like Ferraro, Werner was skeptical, at least at first. He complained about the triple net lease (consultant Ken Mohr says they are common), the lack of consideration of county-owned parcels (Mohr explained that they were considered) and a general "rush to judgment (Ken Kraft noted they stated to look at this last March). Like Ferraro, Werner seemed moved when Fiscal Affairs Director Doran Hammon, of all people, said this is needed.

I never would have suspected that a dry bean counter like Doran would care about the people the County serves, but he made that dark confession yesterday. He's been under Stoffa's bad influence for too long.

Scott Parsons made it clear that he supports the proposal, bt acknowledged that they are taking a risk on the sale of the Wolf and Bechtel Buildings. "We could walk out of this looking like heroes," he said. "We could look like goats. ... It all comes down to what we're going to get for those two buildings."

Apparently, a lot. Enough hints were tossed in that direction yesterday, but Council can't publicly discuss real estate negotiations without shooting themselves in the foot.

Tonight, John Stoffa will learn whether his seven year dream will come true.

Over the past few weeks, numerous "anonymous" comments have been posted here and elsewhere, with the usual personal attacks at supporters of this concept. Jim Gregory has signed his name to some of these comments. But not one of these persons crawleed out from under his rock to address Council.


Anonymous said...

The Bechtel building in Bethlehem is an easy access facility for those needing Human services. What about public transportation to the Twsp. Facility. Stoffa wanted the Bechtel building and now he says it isn't good enough. How does Bethlehem feel about losing that facility? Watch, this is another pink elephant. I would keep the Bethlehem Facility.

Bernie O'Hare said...

No this is not a pink elephant, but you are raising red herrings. Geographically, the best place for a centralized human services building is the one proposed on Emrick Blvd. There is already terrific public transportation to that site, east and west, and it will get better. Had you attended the meetings, you would know this. Not a single person has voiced any reservations about this proposal, excepting Barron and McClure. And they are motivated by politics, not the best interest of the county. Loony Tune Jim Gregory had brayed about this on the blogs, but has not spoken out at a meeting. But he and you will hold yourselves out as all knowing and make personal attacks.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of reasons to vote against this proposal. If Mr. Kraft has had secret meetings with Stoffas committee, good for him. The pulbic wasn't invited.

Since this is something Stoffa wants, of cours eyou think it is a good idea, just as you pushed his lamebrained dump Gracedale proposal.

This is an unnecessary expense.

Of course one question that could have been asked was why has the county not used the rent money it has collected for Wolf and Bechtel over the past seven years to fix things. Basically, Stoffa lets the buildings go to Hell and then says he is a savior because he is saving people from buildings he did not maintain.

Great managment style.

However, it would appear he has his votes. This county council is not very well versed in this sort of policy.

It still is typical you to think any opposition to this plan is wrong or bad.

Bernie O'Hare said...

He had no "secret" meetings. He was a member of a committee that has been meeting since March, and it has been no secret committee. But you will attempt to slime Kraft anonymously for not marching in lock step with you.

The simple reality is that, you make wild statements anonymously at 3 AM, but can't be bothered to show up for any of the meetings and act like a real citizen.

Anonymous said...

The select committee having meetings on the Human Services building were publically posted and open to the public?

Anonymous said...

Wow, Stoffa had the Directors tell county council they wanted a new building. Well that does it, give it to them. Why bother with a county council meeting. It appears to be a mere formality.

Anonymous said...

Anyopne who has a different opinion about this building or lease is on the O'Hare shit list.

Group think is in place.

Anonymous said...

Barron is a moron. Most government entitites have learned:
-build/own your core and public safety facilities
-lease everything else

Anonymous said...

HELLO HELLO did anyone get confirmation that the hair brained idea is even allowed in Bethlehem Township. I remember that my County went down this road before only to be rejected!!! Bernie, please report on whether Bethlehem Township, coming from their mouth, will even PERMIT this. I can't believe County Council is not even asking the question!!! How much more money are we wasting if this is not allowed or has to go through a year of hearings?


Concerned employee.

Anonymous said...

Have any other developer's been given a chance to provide this service? If so when? If not why not? This whole thing stinks!!

Anonymous said...

Bethlehem Twp. will not oppose this building.It is zoned properly and there are no major issues regarding public safety as there was with the proposed work release center. The haters of this needed project are just throwinf crap on the wall hoping that some of it will stick. And Teletubby Barron continues to embarrass himself in public with his grandstanding yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Teletubby's come out as gay?

Anonymous said...

why did the county buy these buildings if they had lead paint. Who inspected these facilities before they were bought>

Anonymous said...

Baran is right..Kraft is clueless on this and his crazy proposal to elect row offices...in two months when Human Services are cut at the Federal level through sequestration, who will pay the bill? When Corbett cuts millions from Human Services again this year, will the county pick up the slack? If council had any common sense, they'd table this proposal for a few months, at least , and wait to see how much money will be cut from Human Services..If you have no folks left to put in the new building, who will go there? Seriously? Council needs to think here.

Anonymous said...

that is an excellent point. i don't think anyone could argue the process to County went thru....it was open, painstaked, and detailed, as only Ken Mohr can be.

If the status quo is maintained re DHS, the process will have served that need well.

However, what is the future of DHS statewide, and does this lease provide the flexibility that the County might need down the line, in the event of a reduction of personnel and increase in block grant funding (which seems to be the trend)?

Anonymous said...

If you came to any meetings you would know the answer to all of the foolish questions posed here by negative people who can only read the first paragraph of an article or pay attention long enough to learn all the wrong things.

1. County owned buildings had no maintenance done to them because Angle would not allow it in every budget.

2. The building is approved allowed and ready to go

3. MANY companies from around the valley had an opportunity to present proposals to the committee

4. The people who work in these buildings have all said they are a mess

5. it has been proposed to move MANY other things in the county to this building (greystone building comes to mind) and this space will NOT be un-used

6. If the county decided to BUILD a building and aquired the land the plans the permits the contractor the bids the advertising of bids the clerk of the works etc we will have a building in roughly 6 years from the day of getting it approved and the bond floated.

7. good luck with floating a bond for ANYTHING in northampton county

8. When you get the facts, and i mean REALLY understand the process and you still have concerns they don't call them PUBLIC meetings for nothing, stand up and ASK, right you would have to identify yourself you COWARD

Anonymous said...

Dear anon 1035

You are clueless..The people in the Bectel building love it there..Toi say the folks in these buildiings hate it there is pure crap..Therefore, everything else you say is crap..You obviously have no idea what is going on..

Anonymous said...

For the amount of money that you are putting into a rental facility, you could set up a facility. Gracedale is the center of the County. Why aren't you looking at that site? When did Bethlehem Township become the center of the County? Bethlehem and Easton and the Slate belt has the bulk of the population and have sites in each location that are easily assessible. Stoffa wanted these regional facilities and now he recommend change for the sake of making change. I work in Bethlehem and this facility is needed in Bethlehem. Funds are drying up and the State and Feds are cutting back drastically. You can't afford a long term committment

Bernie O'Hare said...

Gracedale is in the geographic center, not the population center. If you read the piece I just wrote or went to the meetings, you'd know it is a bad fit bc it is more difficult to get to and bc it will take years to overcome zoning and planning hurdles.

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:35, Your points are well taken. I have yet to see one person speak against this proposal at a meeting, except for Barron, and he must still be suffering from that concussion. Comparing this to the sale of FBI buildings is downright kooky.

Bernie O'Hare said...

".The people in the Bectel building love it there..Toi say the folks in these buildiings hate it there is pure crap..Therefore, everything else you say is crap..You obviously have no idea what is going on."

You mean that Jim Gregory loves it there.

No one has sad that Bechtel is as bad as Wolf, but there are complaints about that building, too. I would not say people "love" it there.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:22, Even if funding for human services is slashed, it make economic sense to provide that service in one building instead of two. In fact, your argument about reduced funding actually supports Stoffa's proposal. You might want to come up with another one bc you are just in this to trash him, not to deal with the idea on its merits.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"why did the county buy these buildings if they had lead paint. Who inspected these facilities before they were bought>"

I can't believe how stupid some people are. This building was bought before anyone had any idea that lead paint or asbestos was dangerous and at a time when there were no inspections at all.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Have any other developer's been given a chance to provide this service? If so when? If not why not? This whole thing stinks!!"

Had you gone to any of the meetings or paid attention at them, you'd know that over 80 sites were examined.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anyopne who has a different opinion about this building or lease is on the O'Hare shit list."

Differing opinions are always welcome, but not unfounded and anonymous personal smears. Kinda' like what you're doing here.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Wow, Stoffa had the Directors tell county council they wanted a new building. Well that does it, give it to them. Why bother with a county council meeting. It appears to be a mere formality."

CC makes the call, bot Stoffa or his administration. Had those directors aid they did not want it, you'd be rushing to their side.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"The select committee having meetings on the Human Services building were publically posted and open to the public?"

So far as I know, no. It is an administrative committee and not subject to the Sunshine Act. I am certain the public was welcome, as is Stoffa's policy at all committees he forms. But he does not like to pay to advertise them unless required by law.

Blog Mentor said...

The SavingPrivateGracedale crew has sent Bernice into a tailspin of posts, RMM you are my hero!

Blog Mentor said...

You allow the anon personal attack on Barron, calling him a teletubby and the following comment claiming teletubbies are queer?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Barron is an elected official, and I allow some anonymous personal attacks on them that I would not allow on others. That is why I allow some of the constant personal attacks on Angle, Dent, Stoffa and many others.

Also, my comment policy is not a subject of discussion.

Anonymous said...

Are teletubbies queer?

Did I miss something?

Anonymous said...

So in fact the "select committee to make sure Stoffa's wishes were conformed to, was not public, was not posted. If the public did not think to ask tough for them. They were not posted on the website. In fgact the only information on the website is the propaganda Stoffa put on on his "legacy". His multi-million dollar legacy.

It is a sad day when the leagl "public discussion, debate" meeting of a resolution or ordinace before county council has become a mere formality.

Sounds more like a school District than a municipal government. "Whatever you and your guys want Mr. Superintendent, I mean Mr. Executive."

It does appear the vote is a mere formality and you are once again enforcing Stoffa's will by attacking any and all who oppose this plan.

All remains the same in the Republic of Northmaton.

Seth Vaughn said...

An effective leader takes into consideration employees concerns when making decisions. It should be taken seriously when people consistently complain about the buildings infrastructure, parking, or working conditions. We want our county employees to feel safe at work and that their employer cares enough to listen. Also, employee satisfaction actually goes a long way to increase efficiency! On a final note, we should be looking at ways to modernize our government buildings to provide a suitable working environment and to alleviate costly future repairs needed working in neglected buildings. Allow the private sector to fix old buildings up, the government is not in the business of being exceptional property owners or landlords.

Anonymous said...

Seth you are right. A great question would have been," Mr. Stoffa why have you let the ceiling fall in on employees and why did you not fix it when ir happened? Why have you let the buildings deteriorate ove rth epast seven years? why did you compromise security by pulling the sheriffs deputies from the buildings?

This is a done deal. Money is a powerful incentive. He got Ken Kraft with the term "prevailing wage" code for union.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"So in fact the "select committee to make sure Stoffa's wishes were conformed to, was not public, was not posted"

It kills me that some hack is complaining about a lack of transparency in what actually were public meetings, but is unwilling to ID himself.

Anonymous said...

Both those buildings are dogs. It will be more efficient to consolidate two, outdated buildings into one new efficient building and selling them off.

You will save operation costs in the long run and potentially put two tracts back on the tax rolls, bringing in more revenue into the county.

Provided the new building is not a golden palace, it seems this is a prudent choice for the taxpayer in the long term.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Seth, Well made points and from someone who attends meetings and signs his name. You have every reason to oppose this since it is supported by Ken Kraft. But instead of playing politics, you are thinking about what is best for the County.

Anonymous said...


Why don't you or council go take a look at the bechtelbuilding..It's in good shape and if you bother asking, you'll find that the vast majority of people there prefer that, without question, to a new building. Most workers tere, including gregory, probably work out of the building and spend most of their time on the road..People are rarely served at the building..The caseworkers go to their home..Council might want to look at the building and ask the folks there what they prefer. I'm sure Ms. Kelly and Mr. Mehler were under marching orders from Stoffa to say what he wants them to say. If you havent seen the building and Council hasnt seen the building, they should table the motion to proceed tonight and maybe take a look..To rush into this is crazy!!!

Anonymous said...

Seth Vaughn is running Councty wide, not against Kraft..This shows how Naive he is...The employees have not made a comment of support as of yet..The wolf building folks have always hated their building..The bechtel folks like theirs..So trying to jump on the employees bandwagon is foolish in this case..The employees want to keep their jobs and supply services..The building matters the least..

Anonymous said...

Do these county types really work at work? Monday's traffic was as quiet as Glen Reibman's office in full production. You could tell the goldbricks were sleeping at home. Today, they're out in force on public computers and public time.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before and say it again Gerry Seyfried had the right idea years ago to sell these buidlings and build a modern state of the art building on the Gracedale site. It solves 2 problems and with the proper marketing Gracedale would grow and prosper. Scott Parsons is on the right track on these leases he should table and pursue the Seyfried Plan

Anonymous said...

Kraft is wrong on this and really wrong on having Row offices on the ballot..0 for two..maybe Seth should run again..

Bernie O'Hare said...

Gerry had the right idea. But that was before new regs went into effect making it much more difficult to develop larger parcels. It would take at least 2 years just to get the aappropriuate permits and zoning approvals. Then another year to build. While that is going on, capital repairs would be needed at Bechtel and Wolf, and those are $3-4 million at Wolf alone. ASlso, Gracedale is not the center of the county, as far as its population is concerned. Access is miore difficult and public transportation is virtually non-existent. It appears that the Emrick building is a better choice today.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Why don't you or council go take a look at the bechtelbuilding..It's in good shape and if you bother asking, you'll find that the vast majority of people there prefer that, without question, to a new building."

While not as bad as Wolf, it is deteriorating, and complaints were ex[pressed about it last night, on the record, by people who were willing to identify themselves.

Anonymous said...

Oh my God stop spending.

Anonymous said...

It is official. O'Hare will spam amd smear any and all who oppose Stoffa's plan. By the way the Gracedale story is bullshit. Has county council bothered to talk to any of the township, officials themselves, I thought not.

It already is a permited use. A building could be buit or use some of the new unused portions of the esxostiong campus. Aging was out there for years. Bechtel is currently poorly layed outwith loads of unsed or underutilized space. Bethlehem officials would bend over backwards to have 250 employees there buying lunch,etc. Point is for much less and not tied to a multi-year expensive lease, the county has resonable options thta does not tiw the hand sof the next Admisntration or Human Servicies. Amazing that an Adminstration could ignore maintenace on buildings for seven years, then use that as a reason to get county council to build a new building. Hello!! McFly!!!

This is nonsense. You repeating it doesn't make it more truthful. This is a lazy county council, so when the shit hits the fan on this buildig after Stoffa leaves office, County Council will be left holding the bag on inadequate funding. Shame on them.

Anonymous said...

anin 2:14 the only problem is the county is paying all the taxes for thirty years. Yeah, that is a great idea.

Randy P.

West Easton Footprint said...

John Stoffa is a Lance Armstrong without the biceps and the torso six-pack. Luckily for Lance, some may forgive him, just because he's smokin hot. Other liars, like John Stoffa, arent that fortunate. Dont expect any apologies or confessions from John Stoffa......he'll likely take his lies to his birdhouse coffin, and roll the dice when he waits to see if he passes through the gates of hell, or the gates of heaven. I think we know which gate will be waiting for Stoffa, and his piece of sh*t vermin pals named Ron and Bernie.

Anonymous said...