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Chautauqua Institution officials say construction project is back on track

February 18, 2016
By A.J. Rao ( , Westfield Republican

CHAUTAUQUA - With last week's dismissal of the contentious "Save the Amp" lawsuit, the Chautauqua Institution is back on track to revamping its 123-year-old amphitheater and surrounding area.

Jordan Steves, director of communications for the institution, said the "Spring Phase" of the Amp project is already underway, with a number of preliminary jobs set to pan out between now and early June.

These include site preparation; infrastructure development; caisson installation; tree and bleacher re-moval; groundwater diversion; and partial underpinning of the Massey Organ.

Steves said asbestos and lead abatement will begin immediately for the "back-of-house" building behind the Amp, which currently provides such amenities as a Green Room for guests and dressing and preparation rooms for artists and crew members.

Approximately two-thirds of the building will be removed this spring.

"That (back-of-house) building was constructed in the late 1970s and early 1980s ... so it's nothing historical at all," Steves said.

Permanent bleacher seats outside the Amp roofline -which were also built in the 1980s - along with Peters Bridge - a wooden bridge behind the Amp - will be removed this spring as well.

Construction companies have been talking to local schools to get temporary metal bleachers for the summer season, so as not to lose capacity, Steves said.

Road work will also take place in the coming months to ensure construction vehicles have adequate access to the site. This includes ensuring sharp corners are eased and roadways widened. Roads will also be surveyed to ensure they can handle the extra weight of the construction vehicles.

George Murphy, vice president of the institution, said the Amp project should be able to get back on schedule despite a court-imposed restraining order that halted work for nearly two weeks.

The restraining order was officially lifted last week after the Hon. Frank A. Sedita III, justice of the State Supreme Court, dismissed a lawsuit aimed at stalling the project.

According to the lawsuit's petitioners - the Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater and five property owners on the institution grounds - the Amp project constituted an "action" because it greatly altered the size, footprint and function of the original Amp.

They argued the town of Chautauqua and its code enforcement officer were mandated to - and failed to - comply with the local Waterfront Consistency Law and State Environmental Quality Review Act, both of which required a consistency and environmental review of the project, respectively, before permits were issued.

The respondents - the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees, the code enforcement officer for the town of Chautauqua and Chautauqua Town Board - argued that the Amp project constituted a "minor action" because it fell within the ordinance's definition of a "replacement, rehabilitation, or reconstruction" of a similar structure in the same location.

As a result, they argued, the project is exempted from any consistency and environmental reviews.

Sedita ruled in favor of the respondents, indicating that the project did indeed constitute a "minor action."

Buffalo attorney Arthur Giacalone, who represented the petitioners, did not return phone calls placed to his office Monday on whether an appeal or motion for reargument will take place.



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