Nassau's shuttered and dilapidated old Department of Social Services building in Garden City, abandoned and up for sale, is now the favored site for a new county Family Court building, according to County Executive Edward Mangano.
"We are seriously considering placing the Family Court at the old DSS building, but nothing has been finalized," Mangano said recently. "We have been in discussions with the [state] Office of Court Administration, which has final say, and with the Nassau County Bar Association, which has pushed something like this for a long time."
Mangano said he is still assessing the cost to move the court. He added that it would be a capital budget project. Such projects are bonded, and would require approval by two-thirds (13) of the 19-member legislature. The GOP holds an 11-8 majority.
But county legislature minority leader, Democrat Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove, took issue with the cost "Mangano's price tag for the project will at least double the amount of what [former County Executive] Tom Suozzi had in his capital plan for Family Court renovation," she said. "It seems the Mangano administration's theme is 'bond, baby . . . bond.' "
He said the court at the Garden City site would cost $140 million, almost double the $75 million he proposed for renovating and expanding the Westbury court. He added at that time that the $50 million he expected from the sale of the Garden City building and its parking lot would also be lost.
Suozzi repeatedly rebuffed the powerful bar association's urgings to move Family Court from Westbury to the old Social Services building, citing cost.
But the court administration kept rejecting Suozzi's plans for the Westbury renovation, and the fiscal crisis in his last year in office pushed the issue into the background.
Now, it's back.
"It makes sense for the court complex to all be in one area," Mangano said, "and here the county already owns this site that looks like it should fit the bill. So we are actively exploring the feasibility of placing it there."
Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt of Massapequa backs the idea.
"If this is viable, we will consider it when Mr. Mangano forwards it to the legislature," Schmitt said.
Bar Association president Marc Gann said he will push for the move, continuing an effort led by a predecessor, Lance Clark of Hempstead. "We met with the county executive, who is open to the possibility of the move."
Ronald Younkin, chief of operations for the New York State Courts, said there is "further discussions and investigations that need to take place."
Garden City administrator Bob Schoelle said village officials recently asked the county for more information about having the court, and its accompanying juvenile detention center, in the village.
Mangano said the detention center might not move with the court.