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Asbestos removal to start at Auburn Schine Theater

After years of anticipation, workers are set to begin removing the asbestos inside the Auburn Schine Theater Monday.

The building's owner, the Cayuga County Arts Council, made the announcement Thursday after City Manager Jeff Dygert spoke about the work at that evening's Auburn City Council meeting. Dygert said it will require closure of the sidewalk in front of the South Street theater, as well as some nearby parking spots. The work is expected to continue through the end of January. 

The arts council is partnering with Bowers Development, of Syracuse, in the theater renovation project. Bowers awarded the asbestos contract to Sessler Environmental Services, of Rochester.

Friday, Bowers Vice President Eric Smithers said Sessler's work will entail some shoring up of the 1938 art deco structure to ensure the safety of its crew, then removing all asbestos, mold and lead paint inside. According to Sessler's building occupancy notification, the Schine's floor tile and mastic, spackle and plaster, piping and roofing contain the hazardous materials.

"It's pretty straightforward," Smithers said. "There's a lot involved in terms of work, it's not that complicated, but we just gotta do it."

The work will be supported by $800,000 in federal funds allocated through June amendments to the city of Auburn's 2016-2017 Community Development Block Grant Action Plan.

In its announcement, the Cayuga County Arts Council said the Schine will begin its transformation into a civic center after its hazardous materials are removed. The council and Bowers plan to install a glass display case in the theater's lobby, restrooms accessible to people with disabilities, tiered seating and new concession and bar areas.

The council and Bowers are also working to line up funding for the rest of the theater's restoration. They submitted a Consolidated Funding Application for $1.2 million from the state this summer, and the Schine has been designated a priority project in this year's Central New York Regional Economic Development Council plan. Funding announcements will be made in December.

The state funds could push the Schine's restoration further toward the finish line than expected: Bowers and the council listed the project's budget as $6 million in the CNY Regional Economic Development Council's 2017-2018 Progress Report. The two had previously stated the budget could reach as high as $12 million, most recently at a Wednesday Morning Roundtable in September.

"We're hoping to get it done for much less than $12 million, but we won't know until we can get in (the building)," Smithers said, referring to the building becoming safe for entry upon removal of its hazardous materials. He continued, "The way we're structuring it, we might be able to get it done for $6 million. That's the goal."

Another question remains the nature of the Cayuga County Arts Council's partnership with Bowers Development.

The council at first indicated that it would sell the Schine to Bowers, then said it would transfer ownership of the building to a limited liability company jointly owned by the two organizations. At the Wednesday Morning Roundtable, though, Smithers said that Bowers owns Schine Theater LLC, and that "we're going to own the real estate."

Still, any change in the Schine's ownership would require the approval of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. In a letter from the office to council Chair Ed Onori Aug. 23, obtained by The Citizen through a Freedom of Information Law request, Regional Grants Administrator Jean M. Egenhofer said the council is bound by a preservation covenant until July 25, 2036.

Until then, the letter said, the council "shall not sell, lease or otherwise convey in any manner or permit a change in use of the project, in whole or in part," without state approval. The rule is a condition of the council's receipt of state funds for the Schine project between the years of 1996 and 2013, Egenhofer wrote.

Friday, a representative of the office said it has not yet received an application to approve the transfer.

Gallery: Inside the Auburn Schine Theater today

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Body found in Owasco River

A man's body was found in the Owasco River in Auburn Friday morning. 

Initial dispatch reports stated that a caller spotted a body floating in the river around 11 a.m. 

Auburn Police Department Capt. James Moore said the caller initially said the body was by the police department on North Street, but the current carried the body to the North Division Street bridge. 

Firefighters pulled the body of an adult male from the water around 11:20 a.m. and began providing medical assistance, police said. The Citizen's reporter at the scene said it appeared that EMTs performed CPR before placing him on a stretcher. The man was then transported by ambulance to Auburn Community Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

According to a press release Friday afternoon, the man's death does not appear to be suspicious in nature, but an autopsy will be conducted by the Onondaga County Medical Examiner's Office. Police had not released the man's name pending notification of his next of kin. 

The North Division Street bridge was temporarily closed and a helicopter was originally called to the scene to perform a sweep of the river. Moore said the caller's initial description of the body did not match what firefighters found; that led officers to suspect there may have been another victim. However, police later confirmed that the original description was not accurate. 

"We are fairly confident at this time that there is just one victim," Moore said. 

Anyone with information about the incident or anyone who may have witnessed a person entering the river in the downtown area should contact the Auburn Police Department at (315) 253-3231 or Detective Meagan Kalet at (315) 255-4702. Callers may remain anonymous. 

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Cayuga County Jail ordered to pay former inmate $300k for withholding meds

A judge has found the Cayuga County Jail responsible for a man's injuries that he incurred while incarcerated. 

On Wednesday, Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark Fandrich ordered the county to pay Richard T. Andrews approximately $300,000 in damages. 

According to the lawsuit filed with the county, Andrews was arrested and admitted to the Cayuga County Jail on May 2, 2009; he ultimately spent four days in custody before being officially released May 7. 

During that time, Andrews had been prescribed Xanax, a benzodiazepine, which he had been taking three times a day since the late 1990s. However, upon his arrest, Andrews claimed that the jail chose to replace his prescription with two other medications. 

As a result of the "abrupt discontinuation" of benzodiazepines, Andrews allegedly suffered severe withdrawal symptoms, including multiple seizures, on May 6. He then needed several surgeries after sustaining bilateral shoulder fractures and dislocation from his seizures. 

"Defendant breached its duty to provide adequate medical care to plaintiff during his incarceration/detainment at the Cayuga County Jail," Fandrich said in his ruling. "Defendant's negligence contributed to and was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries." 

Fandrich ruled that the jail should pay roughly $60,000 for the medical expenses Andrews incurred. He also ordered the jail to pay nearly $250,000 for Andrews' past and future pain and suffering. 

Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould declined comment. 

What you should know about proposal to strip pensions from corrupt NY officials

A question on the election ballot in New York will determine whether public officials can keep their pensions after being convicted of corruption. 

Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution and allow a court to strip pensions from public officials who are convicted of felony offenses that have "a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer's existing duties," according to a summary of the proposition published by the state Board of Elections. 

The pension forfeiture amendment was introduced in response to a slew of corruption cases involving state lawmakers. Two of the state Legislature's longtime leaders, ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, were convicted of federal corruption charges. Those verdicts were overturned. Both will be retried next year. 

What is Proposal 2? 

The question, which will appear on the back of the ballot, is: "The proposed amendment to section 7 of Article 5 of the State Constitution would allow a court to reduce or revoke the public pension of a public officer who is convicted of a felony that has a direct and actual relationship to the performance of the public officer's existing duties. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?"

Two successive sessions of the state Legislature, by overwhelming margins, approved the proposed amendment. But it must receive final approval from New York voters. 

The amendment is necessary because the constitution protects pensions from being reduced or stripped. 

How would it work?

The pension forfeiture amendment could apply to officials convicted of felony corruption charges. A court would determine if they should lose all or part of their pension as punishment for their crime. 

Several factors would be considered by the court when determining whether an official should lose their pension. The factors include the seriousness of the crime and whether revoking the pension would cause undue hardship to the official's spouse, children or other family members. 

If the voters approve the amendment, it would apply to crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 2018. 

What is a "public official" for the purposes of this amendment?

This was an initial concern of some public employee unions because earlier drafts of the amendment could apply to non-elected officials, such as low-level employees at government agencies. 

The amendment's definition of a public official would include: 

• Any elected official in New York

• Any person who is appointed to a position by the governor

• Administrators or managers of counties, cities, towns or villages

• Heads of state and local government departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, divisions, public authorities or public benefit corporations

• The chief fiscal officer or treasurer of a municipal corporation or political subdivision in New York

• A judge or justice of the state Unified Court System

• Any legislative, executive or judicial employee who "directly assists in the formulation of legislation, rules, regulations, policy or judicial decision-making and who is designated by law as a policy-maker"

Who supports it?

The proposed amendment is backed by good government groups and many legislators from both major political parties. 

Assemblyman Bob Oaks, whose district includes northern Cayuga County, supported the proposal when it was approved by the state Legislature. 

He recently reminded voters to support the ballot proposal on Election Day. 

"On Nov. 7, the public has the opportunity to ensure their tax dollars are no longer spent to subsidize the lifestyle of public officials who have been convicted of a felony directly related to their office," Oaks, R-Macedon, said. 

There is strong support among voters, according to a Siena College poll released this week. 

The survey found 82 percent of likely voters support the amendment. A vast majority of every demographic group will vote for the proposal. 

Who opposes it?

There isn't a lot of opposition to the amendment. 

The Siena poll found 14 percent of likely voters oppose the proposal. There were very few lawmakers who opposed the measure when it was considered by the state Legislature. 

One of the opponents was state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat. He called the pension forfeiture amendment "wrong."

"If I do something, then, yes, I go to jail," he said. "But then my wife is out on the street? Just to please the media?" 

How to vote

Proposal 2 is one of three questions on the back of the ballot. There is a question about the constitutional convention and another on the creation of a forest preserve land bank. 

To vote, flip over your ballot and fill in the "yes" or "no" bubble. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.