WEST SENECA, N.Y. — It was a joyful moment Tuesday when Carol Yetter grabbed the keys to the Burchfield Nature and Art Center in West Seneca.
The building was partially reopened for the first time since January 2017 for the dozen or so groups who use the space and the surrounding park for a variety of meetings and events. Yetter is a volunteer with the Friends of Burchfield Nature and Art Center, who manage the various activities held at the Union Road location.
The town was forced to close the entire structure last year because of major concerns it was falling apart. Inside the 17-year-old building, inspectors found some of the wooden frames were rotting and mold had formed inside the walls, making it potentially dangerous for people to use.
The classroom and kitchen areas are considered safe and reopened Tuesday, but a big part of the building including the art gallery is still off limits.
"Generally, there were unsafe conditions," said Councilman Eugene Hart. "The building was going through a slow collapse."
Hart nails the blame squarely on the original engineers and architects behind the construction.
"It's not right for the taxpayers to have to pay additional money to fix something that you would expect as a town official to be properly built and constructed," Hart said.
The town has been in settlement talks with the designers to pay for repairs—estimated at about $900,000. If that doesn't work, Hart says a lawsuit is likely the next step.
"I won't be satisfied until it's rebuilt. Either completely rebuilt or completely repaired for the state that it should be for 17-year-old building," Hart said.
For now, the walls have been shored up and safe from mold in at least a portion of the Burchfield Center. That's welcome news for Yetter and many of the people who've been shut out.
"There's a comfort factor, but there's also a camaraderie issue to see that people can come back together in one place. That's very important to us," she said.