11th-hour lawsuit to preserve modernist concrete-and-glass building in New York

Associated Press

The fight to preserve a concrete-and-glass government building alternately hailed as a modernist landmark and scorned as an eyesore continues even as crews prepare it for a partial demolition and renovation.

An eleventh-hour lawsuit filed last week could be the last shot to save the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, about 50 miles north of New York City. Crews for several months have been removing asbestos and performing other work on the building, notable for its imposing exterior featuring a jumble of different-sized corrugated concrete boxes with large windows.

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"It would basically be almost like shock and awe when you first saw it, and then to walk inside it and experience open spaces that were welcoming rather than the hospital-look of most of the municipal buildings of the time," Mark Medoff, a board member of the Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, said Friday.

The foundation is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking a court order to halt work on the building, designed by the late architect Paul Rudolph, a celebrated figure of mid-20th century style that came to be known as brutalism. It opened for license registrations, court appearances and other government functions in 1971.

The building was closed in September 2011 after being damaged by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Following years of debate, county officials settled on a plan to replace one of the building's three sections to give the front entrance a more generic, glassier look. The other two sections will be taken down to their concrete skeletons and built back up to the shape of the original building, with some functional changes such as a simpler roof line. County officials have said the remake will retain "Rudolph's touch," a claim ridiculed by preservationists.

An earlier lawsuit seeking the building's preservation was dismissed. The new lawsuit, with a local resident as a co-plaintiff, argues that the county understated environmental impacts of the project and did not take a required look at feasible alternatives, among other things.

"Our feeling is that this is fight that is still worth trying to win, that the building can be substantially saved," Medoff said.

A spokesman for the county noted the political activity of the plaintiffs' attorney in calling it "a political lawsuit" intended to disrupt the progress of a plan approved by county lawmakers.

"It's just a waste of court resources who could be spending time on other things," Justin Rodriguez said.

Reconstruction is scheduled to start in late fall and be completed in the second half of 2017.