One in a series of stories in advance of Tuesday's public meeting to discuss plans for a new municipal complex in Kulpmont.

KULPMONT - Code enforcement officer Russ Moroz is paid to make sure borough buildings are up to code.

When he considers the building where he works, the 75-year-old former Wilson Grade School that serves as borough hall, he's glad the borough owns it.

"From a code enforcement standpoint, the owner of this building should have citations out the wazoo," Moroz said this week. "There are too many problems."

With that, Moroz backs borough council's plan to construct a new building, costing more than $1 million and being funded by a loan approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While discussed by council for more than two years, the project is being met with growing opposition from a public that believes there must be some alternative than locking taxpayers into 40 years of payments.

Fixing the current building

Moroz has seen the problems first hand. In February, he had to move his second floor office down the hall after heavy snow caused a leak in the roof and sent ceiling tiles crashing down around him.

"It's been about seven or eight years since the last roof was put on this building, and when they were inspecting the roof the last time, I could hear the squishing," Moroz said.

Start with asbestos

It's been suggested by opponents of the new complex, to be constructed along Fir Street near the Holy Angels Church Complex, that the second floor of the current building be razed to solve the leaking roof problem and cut down on heating costs.

"With this building being built in 1939, you would have to start with the asbestos removal, and that will not be easy," Moroz said in response.

In March, the borough commissioned a study with Baer Wolfe Architects on what it would cost to bring the current building up to code. The analysis came back that to renovate the first floor and fix exterior problems, such as the roof and crumbling masonry, along with making the building more energy efficient, would cost $1.8 million - some $300,000 more than the $1.47 million OK'd by the USDA.

"This building has outlived its use," Moroz said. "Time to move on."

Baer's analysis found that renovation of the second floor would add $700,000, not including ongoing maintenance.

At the time his analysis was presented this spring, council President Bruno Varano also produced a proposal for a feasibility study on renovating the building from 2009.

"This shows that we have been thinking about this for the last five years," Varano said at the time.

In that analysis, done by Brinjac Engineering, of Harrisburg, many of the same problems were found, including inadequacy of the police station and a lack of a clear access point for the public.

Debt is 'foolish'

Baer said he used industry pricing and prevailing wages for his analysis. He assured project opponent Bob Chesney at a public meeting that he used materials of "average" cost, not a "Cadillac version."

"After seeing this, I understand that, maybe, building new is a better option," Chesney said in reply. "But I ask council to be as fiscally responsible as they can on this matter."

Walter Lutz, who along with Chesney has led the charge against the new complex, acknowledges problems with the current building.

"No one is advocating staying in the present building as-is," he said. "Clearly, the need is there for an alternative facility; however, council's want is selfish and self-centered because the tremendous cost of incurring a 40-year debt for something that's over the top is flat-out foolish."

Technically MCA

Moroz believes the current building has reached such disrepair in part because the borough doesn't technically own it. An agreement in 1977 with Mount Carmel Area School District allowed the borough to use the building, so long as it was for municipal purposes.

"They did some band-aid work," and that was it, Moroz said.

Council member Stephen Motyka agreed with the code officer's assessment.

If the borough moves, ownership would return to the district - maybe.

MCA Superintendent Bernie Stellar said Wednesday the district has made an offer to Kulpmont to give the borough the property, as long as Kulpmont uses it.

"The borough has not responded to the offer," Stellar said. "At this point, the school board is weighing their options to see what the best way to proceed for the district."