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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 20, 2006

Overstocked Voorheesville library checks out land

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Trustees and the director of the Voorheesville Public Library are excited about the chance to expand.

They are hoping to buy, for $100,000, the 5.6 acres adjacent to the library property on Prospect Street, just behind the library, which faces School Road.

The land is owned by the Sickles and Ulion families.

The library has reached its capacity, said Director Gail Sacco and Robert Kent, vice president and treasurer for the library’s board of trustees.

"For every new book we buy, she has to take one off the shelf," Kent said, gesturing to Sacco.

He spoke to The Enterprise Monday night after asking the school board to put a library proposition on the ballot for Sept. 19, at the same time the district is holding a vote on a $5.8 million building project. (See related story.)

Kent listed some of the many community groups that use the library and named a variety of library-sponsored activities, ranging from children’s story times to family concerts. He also pointed out the heavy use of library computers.

"We’re maxed in terms of what we can do," said Kent.

When the library was built in 1988, it housed 35,000 items; now it has 125,000 items, Sacco told The Enterprise last year.

She also said that last year the library was visited 73,000 times, based on a door count, and 8,200 people attended 447 programs.

Sacco said Monday night that the land purchase "will give us options."

A building committee is being formed, she said, to assess the community’s needs.

"We’ll go out for community forums as well as hold them in the library," she said.

"We can do what the community wants," she concluded.

"Everything came together"

Kent called the purchase price for the property "unbelievably good" in a popular school district, ripe for development.

Trustee Dick Ramsey said that Eugene Sickles, who is now in his eighties, used to be in charge of maintenance for the library. "They sold us the original land," he said of the Sickles family.

Eugene Sickles’s wife told The Enterprise Tuesday that they lived just two houses from the library; they use the library, she said, but added, "Probably not as much as we should."

While her husband had been in charge of maintenance at the library for over 10 years, she said, they had both worked before that for the Voorheesville School District. "I was a bus driver, and he was a mechanic," she said.

She referred further questions to Terry Ulion, who has been working with a lawyer on negotiations. The property has been in the Sickles and Ulion families for decades, according to Ulion.

"The land goes back to my grandfather and grandmother, Eugene and Marie Sickles," he told The Enterprise on Tuesday. "The land was a farmstead."

Ulion said the farmstead had once included the land where the library now stands as well as the land across the street, where Atlas Copco is located.

"Little by little, the land has been sold off," he said. Two of his grandparents’ children, Eugene Sickles and Ruth Sickles Ulion, live in houses that were built on the original farmstead, he said.

The family talked about the remaining land, Ulion said. "We didn’t want it divided up into small building lots...We didn’t want a factory or commercial interest in there...We wanted something user-friendly to the two families still there," he said. "It was the right time. It was almost like The Perfect Storm, everything came together."

He concluded, "Both Gene and Ruth felt this was a way they could do something for the entire community and they wanted to protect the quiet of the area."

Getting on the ballot

Kent asked the school board Monday to put a $150,000 proposition for the library on the ballot for Sept. 19. He said $100,000 would pay for the property and $50,000 would be used "to engage in public dialogue" in planning for the library’s future.

"We’re not at a point where we have any grand design," Kent told the board.

Public libraries in New York State are governed by their own boards of trustees and have taxing powers. The library follows school-district boundaries.

School board President David Gibson told Kent that the district’s lawyer needs to review the matter. Gibson said the school district had just gotten the paperwork at 5 p.m. that day.

Sacco responded that she had had conversations with the district office for several weeks and she said the library’s resolution was prepared by a lawyer familiar with municipal law and education law.

After some discussion, the board agreed it would hold a special meeting soon to vote on including the library’s proposition on the Sept. 19 ballot.

Kent said the library could hold its own vote but preferred to save money by holding the two votes at once.

Board Vice President C. James Coffin said of the library’s proposed land purchase, "It’s the right thing to do, an investment for the future."

Split vote
Re-zone near old railroad

By Jarrett Carroll

NEW SCOTLAND — With only the supervisor in disagreement, the town board voted last Wednesday to re-zone one area in town and to keep another area’s zoning the same.

Both votes were 4 to 1, with only Supervisor Ed Clark dissenting.

"I felt the votes were premature," Clark told The Enterprise on Monday. Continuing, Clark said he feels there are many other development plans the town could look at before making a decision, and that he believes these other plans should be considered.

The two areas discussed for re-zoning are in the town’s Northeast Quadrant, along the Bethlehem and Guilderland town lines, and close to the city of Albany.

Near Hilton and Font Grove roads of the quadrant, the town board voted against a proposal to change the area from minimum density residential, which requires one-quarter to one-half acre lots for development, into a two-acre residential area.

The other area was an industrial zone along an abandoned railroad in the same quadrant. The board voted to re-zone the area above the railroad tracks to two-acre residential and the area below the railroad tracks as commercial.

"I respectfully disagree with Ed," Councilman Richard Reilly said at the meeting.

Clark is a Republican as is one other board member. The other three, including Reilly, are Democrats.

"The two-acre re-zone won’t stop development, just like with the Krumkill development," Reilly said, referring to the large development proposed on Krumkill Road and the other developments in that area which are zoned for two acres. "Is it perfect" Well, the zoning never is," he said.

Reilly argued that the town needs to act on zoning issues quickly before it becomes too late and areas are inappropriately developed as the town deals with a constant struggle between commercialization, and a growing population, and maintaining its rural character.

The supervisor was not swayed by Reilly’s arguments.

"You disagree with me, and I disagree with you," said Clark. "I don’t think we should go ahead with anything"I just don’t want to be in a hurry to lock in any mindset for the town."

Clark told The Enterprise that the town is currently facing more development pressures than in past years with a lot more large-development proposals.

"The big problem is water and sewer," said Clark, citing the town’s limited infrastructure and ever-increasing demand.

"We could spend $100,000 and print up 1,000 color maps and still not be any closer," said Reilly in response to Clark’s wanting to look at more zoning options and strategies for the town. Reilly said he wanted the board to act now as it begins looking at the larger re-zoning issues facing the town as a whole.

"I think we’re establishing a pattern that we can do better than," responded Clark.

One woman attending the meeting asked the board if a business or developer could move into the railroad area, which was industrial, and by right do what they wanted with the parcels.

"The zoning law is the zoning law, and they could if they wanted," Reilly told the resident, adding that, if changed, though not perfect, other zoning would still be more appropriate for the area than an industrial zone.

Councilwoman Margaret Neri said that New Scotland should look to other neighboring municipalities for long-term development and zoning plans — one municipality in particular.

"I think we can look to the town of Guilderland with what they did with the west end of their town," said Neri. She said she believes Guilderland’s rural west-end land-use plan was an attempt to blend rural and commercial planning, while balancing the best interests of the town’s residents at large. Neri thinks a similar plan could benefit New Scotland and she asked the board to study the comprehensive rural Guilderland plan.

Clark agreed and said it was a good idea.

Public hearings

New Scotland is conducting public hearings on two topics that will directly affect the lives of its residents: a noise control law and a right-to-farm law.

The board held a public hearing on the right-to-farm law before last Wednesday’s town board meeting, and several farmers showed up to voice their opinions, according to Clark.

"There were several farmers"They wanted to tinker with the law a little," said Clark. "Generally, they were all in favor of it."

Citing a survey conducted several years ago in New Scotland, Clark said that there was a general consensus to preserve the town’s rural character.

"People wanted to preserve the rural atmosphere, and with farming"this is one way we can do it," said Clark. "This law is not uncommon in municipalities around the state.

The right-to-farm law would allow farmers many exemptions to local ordinances and mandates, including a possible noise ordinance, and allow farmers to freely conduct business around town.

"We would establish standard farm practices. We would have to exempt farmers from any town ordinance," said Clark, giving the example of hay wagons and other slow-moving farm machines using the town’s roadways.

Clark said complaints from residents about slow-moving traffic, noise, or odors resulting from these standard farming practices could not be brought against farmers if the law is enacted. Clark told The Enterprise that agriculture is an important element to maintaining rural character in New Scotland.

Councilman Douglas LaGrange is a farmer himself, coming from a long line of New Scotland farmers.

The board set an Aug. 9 date, at 6 p.m., to revisit the right-to-farm law and to hold an additional public hearing before the law is voted on.

Following that public hearing on Aug. 9, at 6:30 p.m., the town board will hold a public hearing on a possible town-wide noise ordinance.

"We do, from time to time, get complaints about noise and there’s nothing we can do about it," said Clark. The supervisor said that the town recently received two complaints from residents about excessive noise, and that most of the complaints are about loud music coming from private residences.

One resident spoke up about a possible noise ordinance during the town board meeting.

"This is not suburbia," she said. "You’re opening up a can of worms with the rest of the town"Your going to really have some people riled up." The woman added that the noise ordinance, which may work in denser parts of town like the village of Voorheesville, will not work in more rural sections of town, because of the extensive use of recreational vehicles like ATV’s and dirt bikes, as well as the use of chain saws and other loud equipment.

Under the right-to-farm law, farmers using "standard farming practices" would not be subject to a noise ordinance.

Additionally, the town’s attorney, Michael Mackey, said the method used by larger towns and cities to measure decibels to enforce their sound ordinances could not be used in New Scotland because local law enforcement agencies do not have the equipment. Mackey said alternative methods of determining noise levels would have to be incorporated into the law for enforcement to be possible.

Both public hearings will be held directly before the town’s next board meeting in August.

Other business

In other business, the town board unanimously:

— Called for an executive session to discuss personnel matters, for the purpose of, according to Clark, gathering information needed for future decisions.

"It was a discussion of personnel and various people were named as well as their performances," said Clark. "There were no decisions made and no actions taken." Clark told The Enterprise that two people were named and that it was a "performance-based" issue;

— Increased the Heldervale Sewer District rates from $50.70 to $90 for 15,000 gallons and increased the rate per thousand gallons over the minimum 15,000 gallons, from $3.38 to $6.25;

— Received a summary from town justices Margaret I. Adkins and Thomas E Dolin for court cases held in the month of June. Between the two justices, 160 cases were heard and the town collected a total of $12,157 in fines and surcharges;

— Appointed Susan D. Kidder as the Senior Citizen Coordinator for New Scotland. Kidder, who had already worked as the seniors’ liaison, passed the Albany County Civil Service exam for the position and will be paid $15 an hour;

— Adopted the 2006 rules and regulations for use of the Wyman Osterhout Community Center. For a listing of the rules or making reservations for use, the town clerk’s office can be called at 439-4865;

— Approved the company Geotechnical to take soil samples for a topographic survey from a "slip fault" on Krumkill Road in order to assess what needs to be done to repair the road. Currently, there is a depression in the road resulting from the fault in the road;

— Allowed engineers and lawyers for the Colonie Country Club to approach the village of Voorheesville for accessing their municipal water supply;

— Approved a motion to contact Albany County for a survey concerning two stop signs needed for intersections on Orchard Street and Western Avenue; and

— Approved public advertisement for the town’s animal-control position, which is currently being filled by temporary staff.

Board backs $5.8M school renovation project

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — School district voters will decide in September on a $5.8 million project to upgrade Voorheesville’s schools.

The school board on Monday unanimously approved a plan that would spend about $5.2 million on the elementary school, the district’s oldest building; about half-a-million dollars on the high school, which was renovated and expanded less than a decade ago; and about $91,000 on the bus garage, located next to the elementary school.

In the prior building project, the elementary school was not given "a lot of attention," said board Vice President C. James Coffin.

The lion’s share of the elementary-school costs are for heating and ventilation, said Michael Fanning, the partner in charge from Dodge, Chamberlin, Luzine, Weber Associates, Architects LLP.

It will improve the air quality in the building, he said.

"It should make the rooms more comfortable in the winter and in the summer," said board member Richard Brackett.

Kevin Murray, with Integrated Building Systems, presented pictures that showed the good condition of pipes in the elementary school. He called them "pristine" and said the piping will be re-used in the renovated systems.

Other costs include:

— $254,000 for a new fire-alarm system;

— $377,000 for classroom floors in the wing built in the 1930’s and 1940’s;

— $154,000 for flooring in the gym;

— $139,000 for corridor ceiling replacement;

— $260,000 for gym moisture mitigation;

— $154,000 for courtyard moisture mitigation;

— $213,000 for window replacement in the 1960’s wing;

— $148,000 for a wheelchair-accessible entrance; and

— $181,000 to renovate bathrooms in the 1963 wing, required, like the wheelchair entrance, by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In May, the board had considered building a new gym at the elementary school for an additional $2 million but rejected the idea.

The school’s current large gym is a half-story lower than the rest of the first floor, said Fanning, and there had been concerns about water seepage.

"We conducted a pilot test to see if our concept to keep water out would work," he said. And, in the midst of a wet summer, he said, it has been "extremely successful."

The $91,000 for the bus garage will be spent on reconstructing the heating system, the chlorine room, and the vehicle exhaust system as well as replacing lights.

The $558,000 at the high school and middle school will be spent largely on tennis-court reconstruction, for $264,000.

Money will also be spent on remodeling bathrooms to meet ADA requirements, replacing paving at the gym entry, replacing movable walls, replacing a water softener, and working on the ceiling in the middle-school gym.


Board President David Gibson asked if Fanning had accounted for cost increases.

"Nobody has a crystal ball," replied Fanning. "We’ve put in a 15- percent escalation factor." He also said that renovation work is "challenging" to budget.

Gibson also asked what would happen if the project came in under budget.

"You don’t bond all the money," said Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell. "You don’t bond until you get the bids."

"So the taxpayers would win on that," asked board member Thomas McKenna.

"Yes," answered Winchell. "Once you have a vote, you can’t have a higher number."

Winchell gave a lengthy presentation on financing the project.

Financing will be timed so the full impact of the new project occurs when payments for the 1989 project are completed, she said. The district is expecting the cost will be offset by building aid from the state at 64.4 percent.

Sources of funding for the $5,819,000 project include $500,00 in capital reserve; about $30,000 in interest from the capital reserve; $409,000 in EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) aid, state aid for school construction projects; and the rest — $4,880,000 — from bonding.

There will be no tax impact from the project in 2007-08, Winchell said; the next year, the impact will be offset by declining old bond payments, and will be about $597,000.

In the following years, the impact will depend on whether the district bonds for declining debt or level debt.

Stressing the lower interest costs over the life of the debt, Winchell said, "This district has historically bonded for declining debt."


The board prefaced its vote on the $5.8 million project with discussion of a study on the capacity of current facilities, and a look at the cost of a hypothetical new elementary school.

Superintendent Linda Langevin presented a report on projected enrollment and use of space in the schools.

"We need to maximize the money we have," said Langevin, indicating it would be worth it to expand the elementary school.

Currently, the elementary-school rooms are occupied 90 percent of the time, Langevin found, compared to 54 percent at the high school and 69 percent at the middle school.

She then charted use based on predicted development in the school district.

Expanding the school to space now filled with the bus garage would also solve concerns about traffic congestion, safety, and fumes, Langevin said.

Fanning said the bus-garage site could hold six classrooms, with three each on two floors, and "possibly more"; with three floors, nine or 10 classrooms might be built.

Fanning went on to compare the cost of building a new elementary school with the cost of renovating the old one.

To re-create the school’s 79,000 square feet, at a projected cost of $300 per square foot, would come to $23.7 million for construction costs alone, said Fanning.

He then added 20 percent, or another $4 million, for "incidental expenses" and noted that the $28.44 million total did not include land-purchase or major site-development costs.

Building aid from the state would come to only about $5.5 million, he said. "Not only would the cost be far greater...you’re getting less help," said Fanning, stating the effect on taxpayers would be "dramatic."

"The district is wise to invest in the existing facility," Fanning concluded.

Gibson stated that the cost to taxpayers would be 10 times as great with the hypothetical new building — $23 million — as with the proposed improvements — $2.5 million.

"The bottom line is it pays to fix the building," said Winchell.

The space utilization study shows that there’s "a fair amount of life out of this existing building," said Gibson.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard criticism from resident Bob Burns on its handling of the state comptroller’s accusations that former school administrators had inappropriately paid themselves $216,000.

The Albany County District Attorney found no basis to prosecute, attributing the problems to the school district’s "weak internal controls." The school board last week decided to continue to pursue its civil suits to recoup the funds.

Burns referred to the "horse and pony show" of a press conference in January, where the comptroller made his accusations and the school board president at the time spoke of the board’s outrage towards the retired administrators.

"If the homework had been done, maybe this travesty wouldn’t have happened," Burns told the board members.

He asked, in retrospect, if they would have done anything differently and if it was cost-effective to pursue the civil suits.

Gibson largely declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

"You people don’t get it still," said Burns;

— Approved, in a split vote, a stricter dress code for the high school and middle school, which had been discussed at length last week.

Tony Thanopoulos, a chemistry teacher and member of the site-based team that developed the new code over the course of the school year, told the board that the team had researched "how dress models behavior" and concluded, "Appropriate, good dress models good behavior."

He described school as being "a business setting."

He also said the code was "fluid" and "changeable from year to year."

Board members Brackett and Kevin Kroenke voted against adopting the new dress code.

Kroenke objected to the word "likely" as being too broad, stating that what is likely to offend a civil libertarian is very different than what is likely to offend a very religious person.

Brackett asked if cheerleaders would still be able to wear their short skirts, prohibited of others, and basketball players their uniform’s tank tops, also prohibited of others.

High School Principal Mark Diefendorf responded: "There’s flexibility for the context," such as wearing uniforms on game days, he said, "to allow for some individuality."

Thanopoulos indicated that cheerleaders’ outfits, for example, wouldn’t disrupt learning, wouldn’t be in poor taste, and would promote school spirit.

"Here’s my point," said Brackett. "The teacher’s pet can wear the tank top, but the kid who’s a little bit in trouble is a target...It’s been like that forever."

"We’ve never targeted kids because of what they wear," said Diefendorf, adding that the code will "give people in the trenches...some kind of delineation."

Coffin, who approved the code, said, "You are at least working on creating a better atmosphere, leading to a level of discussion on what’s good or not good, trying to improve taste";

— Decided not to renew membership for the upcoming year in the Cooperative Organization for Public Education, a lobbying and data-gathering group; the annual fee is $500; and

— Met in executive session to discuss pending litigation, the employment history of particular individuals, and negotiated contracts.

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