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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 25, 2005

Fit and fluid Fuller freely focuses on flexibility

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Kay Fuller knew as a child that she wanted to be a dance teacher. After 40 years of teaching across the country, she’s now instructing students at the Guilderland Ballet.

But, it’s not ballet she’s teaching. Fuller teaches pilates, an exercise designed to help dancers and gymnasts be more flexible.

"It’s an awareness of your own body," Fuller said of pilates.

As she told The Enterprise about her career this week, she pulled her body into different positions, using equipment in her home studio. The fit woman made it look easy, and a smile never left her face.

With ease, Fuller grabbed the bars of one of her benches, which she called "The Cadillac," and pulled both legs over a lower bar. As she continued speaking about the equipment, she flipped her body in a complete circle. Then, she hung upside-down like a gymnast.

Fuller occasionally glanced at her reflection in a giant mirror that lined one of the walls.

On another piece of equipment, dubbed "The Reformer," Fuller said she could do over 500 different exercises.

Anyone can learn pilates and become more flexible, Fuller said. She described students who took her class to lose weight and were amazed that, after a few weeks, they could bend their bodies easily.

"It develops confidence when you’re able to be stronger," she said.

Born to teach

Fuller grew up in Flint, Mich. When she was 10, she was walking home from school and she saw a girl leaning over her porch. The girl was stretching out her legs and touched her knee with her head, Fuller said.

"I was excited," she said. "I asked her what she was doing and she said, ‘Ballet.’"

Fuller went home and asked her parents if she could take a ballet class. They agreed.

Before taking the class, Fuller said, "I’d find I could put my body in different positions." When she twisted her body, she never knew what it looked like, she said. So, she got her friends to bend in the same positions, she said.

This, Fuller said, was her first attempt at teaching.

"Some people really like performing and some like teaching others. I’m a teacher," she said.

At 14, Fuller was in the dance studio every night. She then began working as a teacher’s apprentice, she said.

"It wasn’t like it was work," she said. "It was something I liked to do."

Fuller then started her first dance studio, in Flint, at the age of 17; she had 108 dancers.

"We performed for quite a few years," Fuller said. "Flint was a very cultural city at that time."

Several years later, Fuller moved to North Carolina, when her husband took a job there.

She began work as a hair stylist, she said, because it seemed easier than starting another dance studio. She enjoyed that work, she said, and did it for 15 years.

"I’d get to meet lots of interesting people and develop my communication skills," Fuller said.

But, Fuller continued to take dance classes and, for flexibility, she did tai chi, a Chinese form of exercise, and yoga, from the Hindu tradition.

"I had problems with my neck and shoulders and I just fell in to teaching pilates," Fuller said.

Actually, she said, she recalls it perfectly.

Fuller was eating lunch with three friends and she told them that she was ready to get back into teaching.

"I always had an excuse before," she said. "But, this time, I said, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to do it.’"

The next morning, she said, her pilates teacher asked her if she wanted to teach a class.

"I thought that was a sign," Fuller said. "So, I did it."

Pilates passion

Teaching pilates, she said, "is a way for me to express movement and help people overcome pain."

"It’s fun," Fuller said. "Any anybody can take the classes."

But, she said, it is especially useful for ballet students.

It strengthens their core muscle groups and hips and leg muscles, she said. "They’d have less injuries if they were stronger in their upper and lower back."

Fuller and her family later moved again, to Kansas City, where her husband attended ministerial school.

Fuller was director of the pilates program at the Kansas City Ballet Company, she said.

"After doing pilates, I looked at dance differently," Fuller said. "When we danced in Flint, we did pilates warm-ups before class, but I didn’t really know it was pilates."

Asked to define pilates, Fuller said, "It’s a series of exercises that help you come back into perfect alignment with your posture and make your body fully functional."

The exercise helps people become more flexible and less prone to muscle injuries, she said.

"It develops an awareness of your personal limitations and makes the body more efficient," Fuller said. "We have a few muscles in the body we overdevelop while the rest hang out and don’t do anything."

Pilates helps people burn calories more efficiently and makes them feel more energetic, she said.

Some pilates is taught with students using just floor mats, Fuller said.

"You learn how to work your own body," she said.

Fuller’s family moved to Delmar two-and-a-half years ago, so her husband could take a job as a minister at Unity Church.

"I had my equipment and, when I first came here, I didn’t know very many people," she said. "But, I didn’t want to lose my skills."

Fuller started out small, teaching both in her home and outside, at local dance studios. She also certifies other people to teach pilates.

More advanced students use equipment in their exercises, she said. Fuller has turned her Delmar basement into a pilates studio. Three large contraptions — which look like benches with ropes, bars, and pulleys — sit in the middle of the room.

For anyone

A person doesn’t have to be flexible to take a pilates class, Fuller said.

"It will make you flexible as you do it," she said.

Her pilates students aren’t all dancers, she said. One woman she teaches has multiple sclerosis and does pilates to increase her mobility, Fuller said.

Others take the class to loose weight, she said.

"People take it that broke their legs, ankles, feet," Fuller said. "It’s a cross between physical therapy and exercise."

Fuller began teaching pilates at the Guilderland Ballet this summer and will continue in the fall. The school is located off of Route 155, near Fountain View, formerly called Mill Hill.

"It’s hard work for the little girls," Fuller said. "They had summer camp and I taught every day for four weeks. I could see a difference in their flexibility by the last class. It was satisfying."

She went on, "I like working with dancers because I know what their issues are. I know how they feel and what can make them better. I can add a few years to their performance lives."

Fuller recommends that parents encourage their children to take ballet or gymnastics. Her son and daughter, who are now grown, took ballet for years, she said, and it helped them physically.

"A lot of people in this area push sports on kids," Fuller said. "Soccer does not help strengthen the spine and alignment.

"I also notice kids are not as flexible as they were 40 years ago," she said. "Maybe that’s because they sit at computers so much. It amazes me when students say they have trouble doing splits."

The most important thing to remember when taking dance or exercise classes, she concluded, is for a person to listen to her body and know her limitations.

Carman Road condos"
Board waits on re-zone hearing

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — A developer asked the town board Tuesday for a public hearing to discuss his plans to build condominiums at 3633 Carman Road. The town board, however, asked Zelindo Viscussi for more details before it sets a public hearing.

Viscussi wants to re-zone the land from General Business to Multi-Family Residential.

In comments to the town board, town planner Jan Weston wrote that Viscussi’s proposal for six units per acre seems appropriate. But, she said, the board should be provided with greater details about the project.

"A more imaginative and detailed site plan should be submitted," Weston wrote.

Joe Bianchine, of ABD Engineering, told the board of Viscussi’s plans. He wants to re-zone 13 acres to Multi-Family Residential and build condominiums with 78 housing units, Bianchine said, taking up slightly less than six units per acre.

A condominium association will take care of maintenance of green space and roadways, Bianchine said. The development will have two entrances, one on Carman Road and one on Lone Pine Road, he said.

Three acres in front of the project will remain zoned as General Business, Bianchine said. Viscussi wants to build businesses there such as a bank and a flower shop, he said.

A proposal came to the town board for this area a few years ago, said Councilman David Bosworth. Many neighbors were explicit about their opposition to development, he said.

"This is less dense," Bianchine said.

Still, Bosworth said, neighbors had concerns about lighting, traffic, and other issues.

Viscussi is trying to reach out to nearby residents, Bianchine said. Later, one neighbor told the board that he has concerns with this project.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion suggested that Bianchine and Viscussi meet with Weston to discuss her concerns. Runion didn’t want to schedule a public hearing yet, he said, "because neighbors see a public hearing and think it’s a done deal."

Councilwoman Patricia Slavick asked Bianchine to also create a rendering of the condominiums.

"The board would like you to do a little more work before you come back to schedule a public hearing," Runion said.

Bianchine and Viscussi agreed.

Engineers to review reservoir

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board agreed to hire the engineering firm Barton & Loguidace to review the city of Watervliet’s proposal to raise the level of the Watervliet Reservoir.

The reservoir is Guilderland’s main source of drinking water. Watervliet is asking for permission to put a gate on the Normanskill dam to raise the water level a few feet.

By doing this, the amount of water in the reservoir will more than double, from 1.7 billion to 3.5 billion gallons, Jim Besha, president of Albany Engineering Corporation, told The Enterprise earlier.

After the project is complete, the city will have more water to sell to other municipalities, like Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Duanesburg, Besha said.

The Enterprise reported on the reservoir project in detail in April. Then, environmental activists Thadeus Ausfeld and Charles Rielly said that the reservoir should be dredged and cleaned up, before more water is added to the supply.

Ausfeld and Rielly co-chair the restoration advisory board, founded years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers to advise on the cleanup of the old Army depot in Guilderland Center, which had used the Black Creek to remove waste; the creek feeds the reservoir.

Ausfeld, who runs Guilderland’s water-treatment plant, also worried that raising the reservoir will add more pollutants to the water supply. He says this will cost Guilderland because it has to purify the water before it can be piped to Guilderland homes and businesses.

Besha told The Enterprise then that the reservoir is not polluted and is "one of the cleanest water bodies." Many more studies will be conducted before the project begins, he said.

Besha told the town board earlier that, in September, public hearings and information sessions will be held to discuss the project.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Transferred $18,000 from the town’s assessment revaluation reserve account to pay for the 2005 revaluation;

— Agreed to install "No Parking" signs in a cul-de-sac on Sandpine Lane, as recommended by the town’s traffic safety committee;

— Awarded a bid for burner service and agreed to re-bid for diesel fuel and heating oil, as recommended by the town’s highway department superintendent;

— Authorized the superintendent of the town’s transfer station to take bids for the sale of a surplus tub grinder, at a minimum of $10,000, and for a utility truck;

— Appointed Bonnie Jean Johnson as a full-time paramedic and John Brayer as a part-time paramedic;

— Authorized warrant adjustments for 3124 East Lydius St. and 10 New Karner Road; and

— Appointed Thomas Roberts as the Democratic party representative for voting machines for this year’s election.

Drunk driver flees, crashes into house

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Police say a drunk driver tried to flee from them Tuesday afternoon, striking two other vehicles and crashing into a house, flipping his own vehicle over.

Shaun Menzer, 18, of 1224 Union St., Schenectady, was then arrested for driving while intoxicated; he and his passenger are still at Albany Medical Center being treated for injuries, police say.

Guilderland Police describe events this way: At 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Investigator David Romano saw a sports-utility vehicle driving "erratically and recklessly" in the Crossgates Mall parking lot.

Romano pulled the vehicle over and spoke with the driver, Menzer. Menzer appeared to be intoxicated, police say, and Romano observed that he had a 15-year-old passenger in the vehicle.

Romano returned to his car to check Menzer’s driver’s license when Menzer sped off, police say.

Romano immediately called for assistance, Lieutenant Curtis Cox told The Enterprise. As police in two cars were responding, driving east on Western Avenue, they saw Menzer speed past them in the opposite direction, Cox said.

The officers turned around to follow Menzer, he said, and, within 20 seconds, saw him crash at the intersection of Gipp Road.

Menzer struck a car that was pulling out from Gipp Road, police say. Menzer caused damage to the car, but the couple inside were not injured, Cox said.

Menzer then lost control of his vehicle, swerved off the road, and struck a parked pickup truck in a driveway at 1833 Western Ave., police say. He then struck a house, at 1835 Western Ave., and his vehicle flipped over, landing on its roof, police say.

Menzer and his passenger were taken to Albany Medical Center. A spokesperson for the hospital said Wednesday afternoon that Menzer is in serious condition. Information on the passenger was not available.

Members of the State Police, Guilderland Paramedics, Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, and Westmere and Guilderland fire departments assisted at the scene.

As the accident happened, the two police cars were far from the Gipp Road intersection, Cox said. It’s unclear if Menzer even knew the cars were following him, he said.

The Guilderland Police Department has a policy for when officers can initiate high-speed chases, Cox said. The officer’s supervisor determines if the policeman should get involved in a chase, Cox said.

The decision is based on the "totality of the circumstances," he said, including the time of day, road conditions, and the nature of the incident.

As Menzer sped away from Crossgates Mall, Investigator Romano simply followed him to determine what direction he was traveling, Cox said. Romano followed on Crossgates Mall Road, but did not activate his lights or sirens, Cox said.

After the accident, Menzer was charged with driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, both misdemeanors, and failure to comply with a lawful order of a police officer, an infraction. Additional charges are pending, police say.

Menzer is scheduled to appear in Guilderland Town Court on Sept. 1.

Man arrested for ‘inappropriate touching’

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — A man arrested for sex crimes in the past was arrested last Thursday, police say, after he "inappropriately touched" a five-year-old boy at Crossgates Mall.

William J. Coleman III, 48, of 471 Maybie Road, Gilboa, was charged on Aug. 18 with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.

Guilderland Police say that, after 4 p.m. last Thursday, they received a call that a man "engaged in inappropriate touching" with a young boy in a bathroom at the mall.

The boy’s mother waited for her son outside the men’s room, on the mall’s lower level, near the entrance to Houlihan’s restaurant, Guilderland Lieutenant Curtis Cox said.

The boy came out of the bathroom and pointed to Coleman, Cox said. The boy told his mother that Coleman touched him, Cox said.

The mother confronted Coleman and a mall security guard detained him until police arrived, Cox said.

Coleman was then arrested and arraigned in Guilderland Town Court. He was remanded to Albany County’s jail.

Coleman was arrested in the past for rape and sodomy in another town, Cox said. However, he said, he does not know if Coleman was convicted of those crimes.

The boy, Cox said, has been offered counseling through the Guilderland Police.

How solid is Thomas re-zone"

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — Tuesday night, the town board looked as if it would reconsider the now-controversial re-zone it granted Jeff Thomas a year ago to build senior housing on Brandle Road.

The parcel to be developed lies just outside the village of Altamont and has sparked suits and countersuits. Thomas has sued nearby property owners for $17 million for "tortious interference" with his plans to build the housing project.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Bruce Sherwin — who cast the sole dissenting vote for the re-zone last July — suggested the board revisit its re-zone decision.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion was open to a discussion, while Councilman David Bosworth was apprehensive about looking at an issue in the middle of litigation. Councilman Michael Ricard said he was against revisiting the board’s original decision and Councilwoman Patricia Slavick remained silent.

Still, the board agreed to ask the village of Altamont for an opinion before its Sept. 6 meeting.

Asked Tuesday night if he were worried about Thomas suing the town, if the board changed his re-zone and stopped his senior-housing project, Runion, a lawyer, said, "No. He wouldn’t have any grounds to sue."

This was one of the few times that Runion during a board meeting had disagreed with Bosworth, the Democratic party chair sitting on an all-Democrat board.

Wednesday evening, Runion called The Enterprise to say he had thought it over and reconsidered. As part of the normal zoning process Thomas’s plan will go through, the village will now give an opinion on the senior housing, Runion said.

Since that will be discussed, he said late Wednesday, there is no need to ask the village to comment on the re-zone and there is no need for the town board to consider its past re-zone decision.

Asked if the senior housing and the re-zone of land on Brandle Road weren’t two different issues, since the village was just going to look at whether a Multi-Family Residential zone fit in this area, Runion said they were related.

The re-zone is conditional on the senior-housing project and, if the project doesn’t happen within a few years, the re-zone would be lifted, he said.

Thomas told The Enterprise earlier on Wednesday that he’s not worried. He’s confident, he said, that his project will go forward without problems.

But, he said, it is disconcerting when hurdles like this appear.

"It would be very sad for the many seniors if something were to happen to derail the project," he said.

Discussion of his re-zone came after the town board created a law requiring that certain planning and zoning decisions in the town first get an opinion from Altamont, an incorporated village with its own elected government, located within the town of Guilderland.

Any proposals for land in Guilderland that is within 1,200 feet of Altamont’s border or its infrastructure would first be reviewed by a village committee.

Since Thomas’s housing complex is still being considered by the town’s planning and zoning boards, Sherwin said the village should get a chance to comment on the zoning.

This, Thomas said, is not the "true intent" of the new law. The new law is for new zoning and planning applications, not "to rewrite the history of projects," Thomas told The Enterprise.

Last July, the Guilderland Town Board re-zoned the Brandle Road parcel from Agricultural to Multi-Family Residential for Thomas to build a senior housing complex.

Thomas’s plans at the time — to develop 14.6 acres with 80 housing units — represented a tenfold density increase over what would have been allowed in an agricultural district. The town board approved the re-zone at the same meeting it also approved a moratorium on building in the rural western part of Guilderland.

Sherwin voted against the re-zone because, he said then, it was interfering with the town’s planning process. He also told The Enterprise then that he was hesitant to approve Thomas’s re-zone because it wasn’t clear that there would be enough water for the complex.

Sherwin since has not received the Democratic endorsement to run for re-election.

Wednesday morning, The Enterprise asked Altamont Mayor James Gaughan his opinion on whether the village should request the town reconsider the re-zone. Gaughan was wary of commenting, since, he said, he had not heard the request directly from the town.

"I’m willing to work with the [town] board to give an opinion if they, under the guidance of their own regulations and laws, are allowed to refer retroactively, I’d be pleased to work with the board," Gaughan said.

Asked for his opinion on the town’s zoning of Thomas’s land, Gaughan said the town’s decision to re-zone the land was done very carefully, considering the law and ample opportunity for public comment.

"But, if they wish to revisit it, the board will be very happy to respond to that," Gaughan said.

Water conflict

Runion told The Enterprise Tuesday night that the town approved Thomas’s re-zone based on two facts. One was that a need for senior housing was established and the other was that the project would have water from the village of Altamont.

The town would never approve such a re-zone without the promise of municipal water and sewer, Runion said.

The town board based its approval on a letter it received before the vote from then-Mayor Paul DeSarbo, Runion said. The letter stated, "The developer seeks village water and sewer services, a necessity to the project. The village can handle this, but will need to lift the moratorium on water service."

The village of Altamont had at that time and still has a moratorium on granting water to those outside the village; this is because its current water supply is stretched to the limit serving those within the village.

At the exact same time on July 6 that the town board was meeting to approve the re-zone for Thomas, the village board was meeting and questioning DeSarbo about his letter. The trustees had not voted on the water commitment.

As the town board was approving Thomas’s re-zone, the village board was telling residents that it had not promised water to Thomas’s project.

In January, the village board then promised Thomas water, despite its moratorium. The commitment was made over the objections of the village-hired engineer and the superintendent of public works.

Thomas said Wednesday that this was a unanimous village vote.

"I’ve already taken every step possible for approval of this senior project," Thomas said. "Dozens of seniors and village residents spoke to the Guilderland Town Board about the dire need for senior housing."

Michael and Nancy Trumpler also own land on rural Brandle Road outside the village where Altamont drilled and found water. The Trumplers signed a contract last year agreeing to sell about five acres, with the wells, to the village.

The Trumplers were upset because earlier they had to scale back plans for a place for Nancy Trumpler’s elderly mother to live on Brandle Road because the town restricted building in an agricultural district. They also said they had been told that the wells on their land would be used only for water in the village, not for an outside developer, and they had procedural concerns.

Water was a major issue in the spring village elections. Mayor DeSarbo and the incumbent trustees were ousted. New Mayor Gaughan and trustees Dean Whalen and Kerry Dineen had told The Enterprise before the election that they were unanimous in their belief that water should not have been granted outside the village, as it was for Thomas, without a public hearing.

In March, the Trumplers filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court to have a judge decide whether the village’s contract for the five-acre site is legal and binding; they sought no money from the village.

The village responded by filing counterclaims, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, against the Trumplers. E. Guy Roemer, the village’s attorney, told The Enterprise earlier that the counterclaims were to enforce the contract and for damages due to the delay and increased costs to the village.

Roemer is being paid $125 per hour to defend the village against the Trumplers’ suit. The village board last month authorized up to $10,000 for the litigation costs.

In April, Gaughan and Roemer met with the Trumplers and their lawyer, Michael Englert. The village asked if the Trumplers would proceed in granting water to Altamont if the offer to give village water to Thomas were rescinded; the Trumplers said they would.

Then, Gaughan and Roemer adjourned to another room and, when they came back, Roemer said that, since Thomas had deep pockets and could afford court appeals, Roemer would rather take the chance of having the Trumplers sue.

Additionally, the mayor said that the Trumplers’ request to review a fair water policy for the village could not be met since setting policy is the purview of elected officials.

In June, Thomas sued the Trumplers for $17 million, over what he called the "tortuous interference" with his plans to build a senior-housing project. His lawyer said the suit was not over money; Thomas just wanted the Trumplers to drop their suit.

Englert said Thomas filed the lawsuit for "retaliation against the Trumplers for daring to go to court" to seek direction on the option agreement.

At Tuesday’s town board meeting, Sherwin and Runion both suggested that, if the town had received village opinion on Thomas’s re-zone last year, today’s litigation problems might not exist.

The Enterprise asked Gaughan Wednesday, if Thomas were taken out of the equation, if he thinks the village’s litigation problems would be solved.

"The village’s water problem is not as one-faceted as you suggested," Gaughan said. "We are in a litigation because the litigants believe the village did not have the legal option to buy water....They have the right to search for legal opinion."

Thomas repeated to The Enterprise that he was promised water both in DeSarbo’s letter and by the former village board’s unanimous vote in January.

New law

The new law that allows Altamont to comment on planning and zoning decisions is similar to what the town does with parcels that are within 500 feet of county highways or infrastructure. The Albany County Planning Board first votes on the project.

If the county planning board, or now the Altamont committee, disapproves of a project, it needs a supermajority from the town’s planning or zoning board to pass.

The idea of including Altamont in the planning and zoning process came about from discussions between town planner Jan Weston and village officials, Runion said earlier.

At Tuesday’s meeting, village Trustee Whalen said that Altamont strongly supports the new law. The Altamont committee will consist of village planning and zoning board members, as well as interested citizens, he said.

The village will have 30 days to review planning or zoning applications, Runion said. If it does not submit comments in that amount of time, the town will proceed without village opinion, he said.

"Some decisions the town makes can seriously impact the quality of the village," said Runion, who lives in the village and formerly served as its mayor.

"This is a very very good idea," said Sherwin.

The town board then discussed setting a public hearing to re-zone land from agricultural to Rural 3 and Rural 5, new zones created in the town’s Rural Guilderland Open Space and Farmland Protection Plan and Rural Guilderland Design Guidelines.
The plan was developed to protect rural western Guilderland.

The laws, like a Planned Unit Development, will take effect when a developer receives planning- and zoning-board approval for such a project. Currently, a developer has been before the planning board for a subdivision that would need Rural 3 and Rural 5 zoning districts.

A public hearing for Oct. 18 was set to discuss this. The Rural 3 hearing will be at 7:30 p.m. and the Rural 5 hearing will be at 8 p.m.

Revisit the decision"

Thomas’s Brandle Road property, now zoned Multi-Family Residential, is in the middle of the 15,000 acres of land that may be re-zoned.

At that point, Sherwin asked the board if it would consider rethinking its re-zone of Thomas’s land.

"There’s been quite a bit of controversy over that project, especially with the village’s water needs," Runion said. "I have concerns with the litigation and lawsuits."

Sherwin said he just wants to board to look at its re-zone decision again.

Councilman David Bosworth asked if the board can do this while the lawsuits are pending.

"I don’t think it’d be advisable," said town attorney Richard Sherwood.

Bosworth said the re-zone for Thomas was made based on the advice of John Behan, who created the rural Guilderland study.

"We had no idea how specific the zoning was going to fall then," Sherwin said.

Thomas told The Enterprise that using the new law to reconsider his zoning is "unconstitutional."

Asked what he would do if the board were to change his zoning, Thomas said, "I don’t believe they will change the zoning."

Later, he said, "I’ll cross that bridge when and if it comes, but I don’t think it will come."

At Tuesday’s meeting, Sherwin said that he respects Thomas and thinks a senior-housing project is a good idea. But, he said, now the town has a lot of information, specifically on water issues, that it didn’t have before.

Town planner Jan Weston said that she can ask the village how it feels about the Multi-Family Residential zoning for Thomas.
Town Hall was packed with village residents who supported the senior housing last year, said Councilman Michael Ricard.

"Just because a lot of people support the project doesn’t mean it’s good," said Sherwin, "knowing what we know now."

If a developer wants to take his chances on whether he’ll get water is not the town board’s concern, Ricard said.

"These are all legal issues and I’d prefer if it we not revisit it," he said. "...Most of the residents want senior housing."

Another developer, Jeff Perlee, had said in July he had land in the village — where water would be accessible — that could be used for senior housing.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Runion agreed with Weston’s suggestion and said that the village should look at the re-zone before the Sept. 6 town board meeting.

"How does that impact the litigation"" asked Bosworth.

"I don’t think it has any effect," said Runion.

Altamont’s trustee, Whalen, said the village will be more than willing to look at the re-zone. He said that, if the new law had been in place last year, it may have eliminated problems the village has now.

At the Sept. 6 meeting, Runion said Tuesday night, the board can discuss whether it will revisit its re-zoning decision.

Ricard repeated that he did not want to revisit the decision, but he said he didn’t care if the village reviewed it.

"If the village doesn’t agree with the zoning, we’ll let the board decide if it wants to revisit it or leave it alone," Runion told The Enterprise after Tuesday’s meeting.

Wednesday evening, however, all this became moot.

Guilderland board mulls changes in finance audits

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school district here is taking steps to safeguard finances just as the state comptroller’s five-point plan has been signed into law.

A scandal at Long Island’s Roslyn School District last year, where millions of dollars were allegedly stolen by school administrators working in collusion with school board members, spurred Comptroller Alan Hevesi to come up with a plan, requiring substantial changes in how school districts audit their finances and in the comptroller’s role in investigating them.

Last Tuesday, the Guilderland School Board reviewed a report from a committee of seven residents, which made recommendations for the district.

The committee members were Gregory Aidala, schools superintendent; Neil Sanders, assistant superintendent for business; Thomas Nachod, a school board member and banker; Terrance Hurley, chief financial officer for the Port of Albany; William Kahn, a certified public accountant with UHY Advisors; Steven Koslowski, an internal control officer with the state’s Labor Department; and Jeffrey Levy, senior vice president of M & T Bank.

"With an annual budget exceeding $75 million in 2005-06, the district’s goal was to be proactive in responding to the comptroller’s upcoming general statewide findings and recommendations by engaging local experts in a discussion of how best to examine our internal control procedures," the report says. "Philosophically, this approach was viewed as an opportunity to maintain and enhance public trust and confidence in carrying out our fiduciary responsibilities, not a call to investigate or seek to uncover any local wrongdoing for which no indicators were present."

The comptroller’s five-point plan requires:

— School board members elected or reelected on or after July 1 take six hours of financial oversight training;

— School boards create audit advisory committees by Jan. 1, 2006;

— School board put in place, by July 1, 2006, rigorous internal audit functions to assess risk for fiscal operation and to review financial policies and procedures;

— The internal claims auditor function become part of the broader internal audit function; and

— A district’s independent auditor report directly to the school board. A competitive process for selecting auditors would be required at least every five years.

"New turf"

The Guilderland panel made these seven recommendations:

— Establish direct personal contact between the school board and the district’s independent auditors;

— Create an audit advisory committee ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline;

— Create additional school-board policies on internal controls and develop a job description for an internal auditor position;

— Solicit requests for proposals for internal audit services on both a part-time and full-time basis;

— Use specialized cash-management services to control unauthorized access to the district’s bank accounts;

— Issue all employee paychecks through a direct-deposit payroll system, to reduce the risk of improprieties; the system is to be in place for the start of the 2006-07 school year; and

— Increase the indemnification limits for the district’s treasurer, deputy treasurer, and tax collector.

At last Tuesday’s school board meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the report and, in a separate motion, also voted unanimously to increase the indemnification from the current level of $250,000 to $1 million.

Sanders said that the added coverage, for all three positions, would cost $670 more on the total premium for the district.

The superintendent reported on other progress with the recommendations. "We’ve already sent out an RFP for an internal control auditor...We’re on some new turf here," said Aidala.

In December, Sanders has presented the board with a sample policy of the job description for an internal claims auditor as a part-time post.

The policy was prefaced with four reasons for a board-appointed internal claims auditor: proper auditing requires expertise and time; timely auditing and payment results in discounts; the work of the auditor would not preclude board review of the warrant; and false claims — such as illegal gifts, overstatements, or fake vendors — are the most common frauds against a school district.

The panel, in its report, noted, "A full-time internal auditor could result in lower fees for the external audit service. Given the size of the district’s annual operating budget, a full-time internal auditor can provide the necessary support and assistance to help ensure that school funds are being expended more judiciously. Such a position must report directly to the board and not central office administration."

"I applaud the board," Aidala said at last Tuesday’s meeting. "I feel we’re early out of the gate. Before the field gets crowded, we’ll have several measures in place."

Cap Rep comes to FMS

"Good history is good drama"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The battles for women’s suffrage will be played out on the stage of Farnsworth Middle School this year.

Capital Repertory Theatre, based in Albany, will be performing Petticoats of Steel for seventh- and eighth-grade students.

"A lot of history seems old and stuffy. Seeing it on stage sparks interest so students want to learn more," said Jill Rafferty, the educational director for the theater company. She is writing Petticoats with Carolyn Anderson, a playwright and the director of theater for Skidmore College.

They are focusing on significant suffragists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as using period newspaper editorials and what Rafferty described as "propaganda — both pro and con."

"Some of it is wild and outlandish," she said. Some of the literature maintains that, if women are given the right to vote, "It will be an end to civilization as we know it," said Rafferty, while other tracts claim that the physiology of women’s brains makes them incapable of voting.

"There’s a lot of comedy and there’s blood and guts," Rafferty said, which middle-school students will appreciate. "People think it was very polite with ladies in long skirts carrying signs. But it got awful. Women were jailed and force fed when they went on hunger strikes."

The origins of theater, said Rafferty, are similar to the origins of religion. "Both are an intense and communal experience. Everybody gasps at the same time, everybody laughs at the same time, everyone is touched at the same moment."

She contrasted this with the sort of experience that current technology offers for entertainment, where individuals watching a television set or a computer screen are alone.

On the Go

Lynn Wells, the supervisor of language arts, reading, and social studies at Farnsworth Middle School, says the program fits with the school’s curriculum and schedule, and is a bargain to boot.

"This is our first year trying something with Capital Rep," she said. In creating the play, Wells said, "They used primary sources of women in New York State who worked to get the vote."

Wells went on, detailing the practical advantages of the program. "It takes less time," she said. "We’re not losing a day going to the theater. They bring their sets and actors to the school."

Also, the scheduling is easier, Wells said. With so many required tests, it’s difficult to take kids out of school, she said.

"It’s less costly, too," she went on, noting the district doesn’t have to pay for buses. The price for two performances, she said, is $1,600.

With the new state emphasis on standards, Wells said, "We have to pick and choose" when it comes to out-of-classroom activities.

"The topic is very important...It was one of the state’s DBQ’s," she said, referring to data-based questions, where students have to consult original sources.

"This production is based on primary sources," said Wells.

Capital Repertory is aware of the "focus on testing" in schools today, Rafferty said. "It’s hard for teachers to justify art for enrichment sake," she said. "They have a hard time giving up even an hour when they’re under pressure to do well on a test."

Hence, the company developed its On the Go program four years ago.

"A lot of schools couldn’t get to us," said Rafferty. "Now we load it all in a van. We can play in gyms, cafetoriums, any school space."

And the plays are chosen or written to fit with school curricula.

"Theater is story telling; good history is good drama," said Rafferty.

Last year, she co-authored a play called Friend of a Friend, about the underground railroad. The name of the play, she said, came from code words used by enslaved Africans escaping to the North.

Like Petticoats of Steel, that play, too, was based largely on local historic documents.

"Data-based questions are how assessment is being done in New York State," said Rafferty. Students use historical documents and their general knowledge to interpret facts.

"They learn how to judge their sources, which is important with the Internet and the preponderance of media today," she said. "Students need to ask, ‘Who’s telling it and how does it fit in with my belief system"’"

Authentic links

Rafferty said she and Capital Repertory have come to this work "organically."

Rafferty began as an actor — she has a bachelor of fine arts degree in performing arts from Adelphi — and has been with Capital Rep for a decade.

"This work is generated from really listening to teachers and students and to us as an arts organization...It’s hard for arts organizations these days."

Capital Repertory’s mission, Rafferty said, is to provide meaningful theater with an authentic link to the community.

"We’re building an audience for the future," she said. "If a child doesn’t go to the theater before high school graduation, there’s a 98-percent chance they never will."

Although the actors for the 45-minute traveling school plays have often not performed for young audiences before, Rafferty said, "They come away with a great love for it."

She went on, "We get incredible questions from the kids. Actors often get applause but not right inside the mind of the audience. With this, they can see the impact they’re making."

Wells, too, sees the value of the arts, from the perspective of a teacher.

Wells began her career as a special-education teacher.

"I always wanted to be a teacher, even when I was a little kid; it was in my blood," she said.

She’s carried her approach as a special-education teacher into her current post. "Every student has some special need," said Wells. "Every student has to be looked at individually."

The arts help fill that need, she said.

"The arts bring another layer," said Wells. "Students can learn about a subject and talk about it. But when you take it to the art level, they can feel it...Whether they are making something with their hands, like a drawing, or playing an instrument, making music, you need for them to feel it and own it."

"Part of the school"

This spring, as the Guilderland School District was trying to economize in creating its $76 million budget for 2005-06, a line was cut for cultural arts at the elementary schools.

That budget line paid for students, through BOCES, to be bused to see professional performers.

This year, instead, the district is focusing on bringing cultural enrichment into the schools.

"There is a per-pupil enrichment budget of three or four dollars per student for the arts," said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress. "The middle school and each elementary school works with their enrichment teacher and the principal on a committee to bring programs to the school."

While the middle school is working with Capital Repertory this year, each elementary school has different plans, she said. School PTA’s are chipping in for many of the programs, Andress said.

"We’re really determined to give kids a good experience," she said, adding that the current approach may even be preferable to busing students out to see performances.

"We’d like it to be part of the school and the fabric of the curriculum," she said.

Andress has first-hand knowledge of and commitment to teaching the arts at Guilderland. Her son, a Guilderland graduate, went on to Parsons School of Design in New York City and now works in design marketing for Liz Claiborne Corporation, she said.

"I’ve seen, as a parent, how important it is. He was not interested in sports. He was interested in things like theater," she said, where he worked on lighting.

"Even if students don’t go on with the arts in college, they will have left with a well-rounded education," said Andress.

She said that teaching the arts goes along with the district’s philosophy on early childhood development. "Research on multiple intelligences and brain development shows how we all learn differently," said Andress.

"The importance of movement, music, hands-on creative projects, and language development are all interrelated....That enhances learning and brain activity, allowing kids to make all kinds of connections."

Andress concluded, "The arts, for all children, are an essential part of learning. It teaches them a way to look at the world, a way to think and discover and create. It melds well with academic learning. I’m sad to see schools cut art and music programs. I don’t want to lose that in this era of testing and accountability. Our district has a history of outstanding programs in music, theater, and dance; we want to maintain that."

At GCHS, Pipa says

"Let kids play Shakespeare and let them love it"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Michael Pipa loves Shakespeare. He talks about the Bard with passion.

His love affair began after graduate school, when a friend asked him to audition for a play.

"He harangued me," recalled Pipa. "He got me on stage. He insisted I possessed what I needed. I felt in way over my head."

But Pipa didn’t drown.

The play was an amalgam of William Shakespeare’s works and he played Coriolanus, Henry V, Orlando, and Macbeth.

It was an awakening.

Pipa had studied Shakespeare in college — his undergraduate work was at Siena College and his graduate schooling at the University at Albany — but he was bored by it.

"We just read the plays," he recalled. "It was like a game show in class."

Pipa loved Shakespeare when he started to play it. So, three years ago, he designed a course based on that for juniors and seniors at Guilderland High School where he teaches English. The high-school actors perform for enthusiastic audiences at the district’s elementary schools.

These ideas coalesced for Pipa when he attended a workshop in Lenox, Mass. led by Shakespeare and Company. He revamped his proposal for a traditional literature class into the course he teaches today.

His central idea: "Let kids play Shakespeare and let them love it."

"Transformational power"

Not all of Pipa’s college English classes bored him. He had started as a computer science major at Siena but found himself "pulling all-nighters" to read novels for a required English class.

"I love the transformational power of good stories," said Pipa.

He came to Guilderland in 1989 to teach at the middle school and worked there for a decade. Pipa is starting his seventh year at the high school, where he primarily teaches sophomores.

"It’s a great year — a year when you’re wise and foolish," he said, referring to the roots of the word "sophomore."

"It’s a year of self-discovery," said Pipa, stating sophomores face "trials and tribulations" similar to those faced by the eighth-graders he used to teach.

Identity is a major theme in his sophomore classrooms.

"You hear, ‘I have to find myself.’ What does that mean""

Pipa’s students explore that question through literature centered on identity.

"It’s hard work," he said of teaching, "but it’s a blast."

Pipa is married to Donna McAndrews, another English teacher who worked at Guilderland but resigned, he said, "to stay home with the kids until they are ready for school."

The couple have two children — a son, Cole, who is six, and a daughter, Isabelle, who is four.

Pipa gave up being Guilderland’s varsity baseball coach when his second child was born.

"I was in a vacuum professionally," he said.

To fill the vacuum, he wrote a proposal to teach the high-school Shakespeare course. He is now working on receiving National Board Certification, a rigorous process that very few teachers go through.

And, Pipa is planning a Summer Shakespeare Institute for next year. The seed for that was planted two years ago when he led students and staff in an outdoor production of As You Like It; this spring, he produced Henry V.

"We had about 40 people in full battle," he said. "It was great."

With the summer institute next year, Pipa said, he’ll avoid the "end-of-year craziness" of producing a play in the midst of final work and exams. He’s planning a trip to Lenox so the students can meet with the Shakespeare and Company actors and to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

"I’d like them to see as many live performances as possible," he said.

"I don’t give them the answers"

Pipa has been a sort of missionary for Shakespeare at Guilderland, converting or inspiring the unenlightened.

He recruits students for his Shakespeare class. "Most of my kids, with two or three exceptions, have never acted before," he said. "I go to classes at the half-way point of the year and pitch it to kids."

Last semester, he had a class of 25.

The students select the scenes they want to play — mostly from Shakespeare’s comedies, but also from his histories and tragedies.

"I tell them the stories up front," said Pipa. "We look for the hot spots."

The scripts are downloaded from a website maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They have the entire Shakespeare collection on-line," said Pipa. "It’s all in the public domain."

Once the scenes are set, he said, "The kids cast themselves. They know each story line and each scene. They know which parts are the heaviest-lined parts. Some kids want to play the big daddy role with a lot to learn. Others want a part with no lines. They can jump in at whatever depth they want."

Asked what happens if several students want the same part, Pipa said, "If someone’s not given their first choice, next time they get a chance."

Then comes the heart of the course.

"We work with the script," said Pipa. "We make sense out of the language. With the help of footnotes, dictionaries, and historical background, the kids learn to trust their instincts.

"I don’t give them the answers. They become so acquainted with their characters that they understand how to play the part...That is the great power in learning. They take real command of the language."

"Really into it"

Actors need an audience. The high-school students, having mastered their craft, become the teachers.

Once the scenes are well rehearsed, the show goes on the road to the district’s elementary schools. For many, it is their first experience with Shakespeare, said Pipa.

Altamont Elementary School has a long-standing tradition of its fifth-graders producing a Shakespearean play, using the original Elizabethan language. Since the Altamont fifth-graders put on Hamlet this past school year, they asked the high school students to include a scene from that tragedy.

"The final sword fight was more electrifying than I intended," said Pipa. "A sword went flying."

Both the actors and the audience enjoy the performances, said Pipa.

"The high-school students get to go back and see their old teachers and the teachers get to see them. Parents get to check out their kids; some of them show up at the performances, too."

At the end of the show, the high school students answer questions from the elementary students.

"The staff at the elementary school say the kids are really into it," reported Pipa.

"Imbued with a great sense of care"

"The most powerful learning experiences we have are performance related," said Pipa, "because the audience matters. If it is your responsibility to tell them the story, or to play your musical instrument, or to explain your scientific experiment, you want them to know what you know.

"You are imbued with a great sense of care. We want others to love something the way we love it. That’s the key to all the arts at every level."

At the end of the high-school Shakespeare course, Pipa asks his students to reflect on what they have learned and write about it.

"They tell the truth," he said. "They write about the risk involved in performing — first before their peers and then before an audience.

"They write about what they have gotten to know about themselves. It’s genuine. It has everything to do with the work they did...

"You stand back and just let them work. They think you have made it possible. I say, ‘Who was on the stage" Who provided the props" Who made the costumes"’"

Pipa concedes that he has had directing and theatrical experience and "can give them the confidence to go forward" but he maintains the end result is because of his students’ learning and labors.

The students Pipa recruits are from all different segments of the school, which is generally divided according to academic ability.

"My students come from the Focus program," said Pipa, referring to a program designed for struggling students, "from Regents and from AP," he said referring to those in the main state-set track and those who take Advanced Placement, college-level courses.

"They’ve never been in class together before," concluded Pipa. "They learn about each other as people. The friendships are really powerful. It’s a community."

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