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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 19, 2006


Athletes accused of rape, campus reacts

By Rachel Dutil and Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND – Three University at Albany football players are suspended from school and the team after being arrested on felony charges of first-degree rape.

The three 18-year-old freshmen – Lorenzo Ashbourne, Julius Harris, and Charles Guadagno – are being held in Albany County’s jail, each on $50,000 bail. Five thousand dollars are needed to get each suspect out of jail, but none of them had posted bail, Rachel McEneny, spokesperson for the Albany County District Attorney’s Office said yesterday.

Ashbourne and Harris, who were arraigned by Judge John Bailey in Guilderland Town Court on Monday, were scheduled to appear again on Wednesday, but waived their right to a pre-trial hearing.

The young woman who reported the assault, also a freshman, said in a statement to University police that she was raped repeatedly in the early hours of Sunday morning at 103 Onondaga Hall, the room that Ashbourne and Harris share.

Harris and Ashbourne were arrested by University Police on Monday. Guadagno was arrested early Wednesday morning.

All three men have been charged with first-degree non-forcible rape.

The men have all been suspended both from school and the football team, Michael Parker, assistant director of media relations for the University told The Enterprise. "They are no longer part of the University at Albany student body," he said yesterday.

Parker said students sign a code of conduct and, when that is violated, a judicial process within the university determines the outcome. "It’s a case-by-case basis," he said.

Media attention in this case has been widespread; McEneny said that she had received 45 calls per hour on Tuesday morning from news outlets across the country.

On campus, some students have expressed fear while others say they feel safe. Those from the southern hometowns of the accused men who talked to The Enterprise have expressed disbelief at the charges, and cited their sterling qualities.

According to the woman’s statement, she met Ashbourne at freshman orientation, and also had a math class with him. She met Harris through Ashbourne. She did not know Guadagno.

The statement, recounted in the accompanying story, graphically describes a series of rapes as the woman went in and out of consciousness early Sunday morning.

The accuser describes the drinks she had that night – shots of vodka and beer. The arrest report for Harris and Ashbourne, filled out by University Police, states under a box on "condition of defendant" that they appeared normal. That category is checked rather than "impaired drugs," "impaired alcohol," "mentally disturbed," or "injury/ill."

After the girl returned to her own dormitory room, in the Indian Quad, her suite-mates called a cab and took her to St. Peter’s Hospital, the statement says.

At St. Peter’s Hospital, a rape kit was administered, said McEneny. It takes two to three weeks for the results to come back, she said.

The accused men have denied all requests for interviews, and their lawyers could not be reached for comment.

Two of the defendants have hired lawyers privately – Hank Bauer is representing Guadagno, John Casey is representing Ashbourne. Harris is being represented by a public defender, James Milstein.

Rebecca Bausher, with the special victims unit, is handling the case for the district attorney’s office.

The accused

The three football players were all attending the University on partial scholarships.

Ashbourne is a 5 foot, 9 inch, 165-pound cornerback who graduated from Coral Springs High School in Coral Springs, Fla.
Harris is a 5 foot, 8 inch, 165-pound flanker who graduated from Palm Beach Gardens High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Guadagno is a 6 foot, 2 inch, 210-pound tailback who graduated from Gregory-Portland High School in Portland, Texas.

Guadagno’s high school coach, George Harris, was stunned when The Enterprise informed him yesterday of the rape charge. He has been coaching for 47 years, and is the head football coach at Gregory-Portland High School.

"Charles was a wonderful kid here," Coach Harris told The Enterprise, "one of the most dedicated kids I’ve ever coached in my life."

Coach Harris said that Guadagno dated a young woman who now helps with the football team. The two dated all through last year up until she broke it off about three weeks ago, he said. "Charles would call her every night," he said.

Coach Harris said that he spoke just last week to both Guadagno and his parents in separate conversations. Guadagno told him that he loves school in Albany, he said.

In response to Guadagno’s arrest, Coach Harris said, "I care about my athletes; this is very disturbing to me."

Guadagno was active in football, track, and power-lifting, and excelled in all three, his coach said.

"I could say nothing but good things about Charles and his family," Coach Harris said. "That just doesn’t sound like him."

Torin McCullough and Denishia Echols have known Ashbourne since elementary school. Echols said that Ashbourne "is definitely one of the nicest guys you could ever meet."

McCullough said that the two have worked together, played football together, ran track together, and often slept at each other’s houses. He has known him since the third grade.

"He has always treated women with respect as long as I’ve known him," McCullough said about Ashbourne.

"He’s so respectable and smart, which is why I know he wouldn’t do something dumb and mess up his life," Echols told The Enterprise.

He took honors and Advanced Placement courses in high school, McCullough said. Ashbourne’s father was strict with him, and made sure that he always did the right thing, he said.

"You could say he’s a model citizen," McCullough said of his long-time friend, adding he is just in shock about the charges.

Student reaction

About 200 students and staff gathered yesterday afternoon at the University at Albany’s campus center to ask questions of school administrators in the wake of last weekend’s reported rape.

Most of the women who addressed the panel – which included Provost Susan Herbst, Vice President for Athletic administration Lee McElroy, University Police Captain Aran Mull, and the president of the student union – said that they were offended by the e-mail that the university had sent to students following the reported rape.

In addition to alerting students to the incident, the e-mail included tips that students might follow to avoid unsafe situations. Many of the women felt that it implied women are responsible for avoiding unsafe situations, and those implications could re-victimize women who have been raped.

Among the tips included in the e-mail were not walking alone through the campus and leaving bars only with friends that you trust, one woman recalled. The problem with this advice is that it plays to the misunderstanding that most rapes are imposed by strangers when, in fact, the large majority are perpetrated by acquaintances, said one woman.

"What happens when it’s their friends who are raping them"" the girl asked when the panel stressed the importance of staying with friends.

Lorenzo Ashbourne was a friend and classmate of his accuser.

As freshmen, it’s difficult to know who your friends are and who you can trust, Herbst said. She suggested that incoming students should get to know each other in settings that don’t include drugs or alcohol – in study groups or during late-night political discussions.

Herbst has been leading the university since the death of President Kermit Hall.

Part of the freshmen orientation includes mandatory sessions on avoiding and reporting sexual assault, the coordinator of the program said. Nationwide, only 5 to 15 percent of rapes are reported to police, one woman said.

McElroy reported that members of the football team receive an even more intensive course on avoiding sexual assault. He added, after one woman asked how the university will try to fight misogyny, "We’ve got to work together to combat it." None of the students asked about Ashbourne’s, Harris’s, or Guadagno’s standing on the football team or what the reaction of the coach or teammates were.

A random sampling of students on Tuesday afternoon gave a different impression of the campus. Erin Mannion, a freshman who lives on the Indian Quad, said that she was surprised by the news but thinks that the campus is generally a safe place. "They take every precaution," she said of the university administration.

Stephanie Labarbera, a 21-year-old senior at the school, said that it’s sad when things like rape happen, but she doesn’t fault the university for incidents like this.

"Obviously it’s bad," she said. "But how much more enforcement can there be""

A number of the women who voiced their concerns to the panel yesterday, though, said that they felt unsafe on the campus. The biggest concern that they cited was a lack of lighting.

"As a woman, I don’t feel safe anywhere," Herbst said, agreeing with the women that the university should do everything that it can to be safe.

Some of the women who spoke asked for a stronger police presence on campus and in the dorms. Police Captain Mull said that he’d be happy to increase patrols in the residence halls, but, in the past, he said, "a lot of doors have shut as I walk down the hall."

What it means

Attorney Paul DerOhannesian, author of Sexual Assault Trials worked for 21 years as the chief of the sex crimes unit for the Albany County District Attorney. He has been working in private practice for nearly six years now.

In 1990, DerOhannesian prosecuted a first-degree non-forcible rape that occurred in a dormitory on the University at Albany campus. The rapist was convicted, he said.

All cases of first-degree rape, regardless of whether they are forcible, non-forcible, or statutory carry the same punishment – up to 25 years, he said.

Non-forcible rape, which is what the three university students are charged with, is classified as physical helplessness of the victim, he said. This can be a result of sleep, intoxication, or the influence of drugs, DerOhannesian said. He said that often times, physical helplessness involves alcohol.

"Physical helpless rape is as serious as a forcible rape," he told The Enterprise.

He explained that non-forcible rape does not mean non-consensual. If a nine-year-old child, for example, were raped, it would not matter whether the child gave consent or not, because legally a child that young cannot consent to sex, he said.

DerOhannesian said that rapes, such as the rapes alleged in this case, where friends are said to have taken turns with the same woman, are "not typical, but it does occur." Those types of rape, he said, are more likely to happen when the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Initially, the police make the decision of what the charges will be. In this case, the University Police brought the charges of first-degree non-forcible rape against the accused men. Once the case leaves local court, the district attorney decides on the charges. They will then determine whether or not to proceed as a felony, and what the charges will be, DerOhannesian said.

McEneny agreed that there is a possibility that the charges could change when the case goes before a grand jury. She also said the district attorney’s office won’t know if the three accused rapists will be charged as a group until after the indictment.


What she told the police

The first-year University at Albany student who is accusing three football players — Lorenzo Ashbourne, Julius Harris, and Charles Guadagno — of rape signed a detailed statement on Oct. 15, witnessed by Wendy Knoebel, a University Police officer.

At the bottom of the statement, she acknowledges that it is a misdemeanor to make a false statement.

A synopsis of her statement follows:

She had been drinking shots of Grey Goose Vodka with a close friend, visiting from out of town. The two women then went to dinner off-campus together and the accuser had between four and six more shots of vodka after dinner. The women then met up with some suite-mates and went to a fraternity party in Albany. She says that she had "two beers from the keg" and "one or two shots at the party."

The women left the party early and went back to campus, arriving at about 12:50 a.m. on Sunday morning.

The accuser went outside with one of her roommates, and "we were approached by my friend Lorenzo and Jay," she says. Jay is Harris’s nickname. She said she agreed to meet the two men later.

She was "feeling kind of tired and little off balance" by the time she met up with Ashbourne and Harris, in the dorm room they share at 103 Onondaga Hall.

The three were watching the movie American Pie, when Harris told her he thought she was pretty and asked if she had a boyfriend.

"I told him no, I didn’t want to do anything with him."

Harris then started kissing her neck, she says. Ashbourne asked if she had ever been curious about the two of them. "He asked me if I had ever been with a black guy before," she says. "Lorenzo then said haven’t you ever wanted to be with two black guys, and I told him no."

She then tried to leave but the two men grabbed her wrists. They both started kissing and groping her.

"I kept telling them to stop, that I didn’t want to do anything with them and they told me I was lying."

Ashbourne then tried to unzip her pants, she says. She pleaded with them to stop, and they did, she then passed out, and was awakened with Ashbourne on top of her trying to force his penis into her mouth, she says.

"I kicked him in the leg and told him to leave me alone," she says. "He did."

She then passed out again and woke up on Ashbourne’s bed, on the top bunk. She said she was "very out of it."

Ashbourne was taking her pants off, she says, and she tried to get him to stop, but he would not.

"I tried to keep my legs shut but he forced them open," she says.

She tried to push Ashbourne off of her, but "he was too strong for me," she says.

After Ashbourne had ejaculated, she says, he told Harris he was finished, and, if he wanted to, he could "do it now."

Harris did the same, and she said she was weak, and couldn’t fight him, but told him to stop.

She passed out again, and awoke when the two men entered the room with a third man, whom she did not know. (Police later arrested Charles Guadagno.) He asked Ashbourne and Harris if it was OK to have sex with her.

"They told him that I was drunk and that I was fine with it," she says.

He asked her if she was alright, and she replied that she was "not well" and she asked him to stop, but he did not.

She scratched his back and shoulders, and he left when he was done.

Ashbourne then raped her again, she says.

"When he was finished, I was in a daze and I felt helpless, but I could tell they thought I was passed out. I felt numb and I was in pain at the same time, I didn’t know what to do at all, I was also crying."

The two men then dressed her, putting her underwear on wrong, she says, and moved her to the couch.

"Lorenzo and Jay were talking about how I wouldn’t even remember this in the morning. I believe it was Jay who asked Lorenzo if he thought I would tell anyone and Lorenzo assured him that I wouldn’t," she says. "Then they both went into their beds as if nothing had happened."

She left their room at around 5:30 a.m. and went back to her room. One of her suite-mates was setting up a bed on the floor when she returned, the statement says.

The suite-mate took a thick blanket off of her bed to cover her with, and she screamed that she didn’t want anyone else on top of her and they asked her what had happened.

"I started crying hysterically and they helped me onto the bed." She couldn’t tell them what happened. "I just told them ‘three,’" she says.

"My fly was open and they told me that I needed to go to the hospital right away."

— Rachel Dutil


Budget call for bridge to connect 600 acres of parkland at town’s center

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Town parks usually provide green space, a playground or two, maybe even a baseball diamond or tennis court with a pavilion to have cookout.

But the town of Guilderland is asking, ‘Why stop there"’

Supervisor Kenneth Runion is calling for an all-out, multi-seasonal recreation center — all without a parks fee.

"Basically, we have 600 acres in the center of town where you can go golfing, play baseball, basketball or tennis, go to the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, have a garden, or go swimming, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, walking, or hiking, fishing, and simply enjoy yourself any time of year," said Runion

The supervisor has earlier cited studies showing municipalities attract new residents and satisfy current residents if they offer recreational opportunities.

Runion wants it to come together at Tawasentha.

Tawasentha Park, named for the veil that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made famous in Son of Hiawatha, is in the center of town. Currently the park borders the town-owned Western Turnpike Golf Course, the largest municipal facility, and is broken up into several different sections.

Runion wants it all to be connected.

The 2007 town budget draft of $18 million makes way for an improved park system with Tawasentha at its focus. Next year’s total parks budget is $709,072, up less than 5 percent from this year’s $676,419. The 2007 expenditures are just $7,000 more than 2005.

The town is keeping costs down by having different town departments cooperate, sharing equipment so it doesn’t sit idle, and also uses college students for interns to do park work, saving in salary costs, Runion said.

"This is something I’ve been trying to get people to do for five or six years now," Runion said, adding, "Sharing is a priority."

One of the key elements to connecting all of these natural amenities, Runion told The Enterprise, is to put a bridge in Tawasentha to cross the Normanskill.

"The problem is we have no linkage for the trails"We need to cross the Normanskill," Runion said during last month’s budget workshop. "It would take several couple-hundred-acre parks and turn it into one whole 600-acre park.

The town has applied for numerous grants from the county and the state for park projects, but, said Runion, most are denied because there is no connectivity to the trails. They are what are called looping trials, and essentially "go nowhere," said Runion.

With a bridge over the river, trails can be connected, the park will be unified, and grant applications will have a much better chance of being successful, according to Runion.

"We always applied for grants for looping trails and it goes nowhere because there’s no linkage"This opens up future avenues for possible grants," he told The Enterprise last week.

Work is already underway on connecting trails that will run all the way from the golf course to the winter recreation area and down to the Normaskill where a bridge will be placed next summer. There will be both summer and winter trails, for hiking and biking, or skiing and snowshoeing.

"If you put in that bridge, it just opens up this spectacular land," said Runion. "If we tried to duplicate what we’ve got there, it would cost millions of dollars to add all of those features."

The engineering plans and surveying are already underway for the $96,000 bridge and money has been allocated for it in the preliminary 2007 budget to be voted on in November.

Concrete bridge abutments will be poured next spring, Runion said, and the bridge will in place by the middle of next summer. Installing the bridge will take only two or three days because once the forms are in place, which act as anchors to the bridge, a prefabricated bridge will brought in by truck and placed over the stream with a crane.

The bridge abutments, along with rental cost for equipment, will added another $25,000 to $50,000 to the project. Town labor will used.

Park’s center

To complement the park initiative, the town’s Parks and Recreation Department is moving across the street from Tawasentha Park at the old Inga Barth’s florist shop on Route 146. The sale of the building was closed a couple of weeks ago, and now it is being renovated as the new department headquarters.

The town will officially open the building later this fall.

"I got a telephone call from the owner of the building," Runion said when asked about the move. "I was hesitant at first, but then I thought about it for a while and decided it was a perfect spot."

There are greenhouses attached to the building, which the town will use to grow flowers for its municipal landscaping and town-wide beautification projects.

In conjunction with the community gardens up the road a few hundred yards, the new building can help build "more of an educational environment," according to Runion.

"People run out to Lowe’s and Home Depot and buy plants grown in southern climates and expect them to grow perfectly in their backyards. Now we can teach people what grows well here along with identifying indigenous plants," Runion said.

The Parks and Recreation Department is currently located behind Town Hall, and, after the move, its former offices will be used for other town functions.

"We’re maxing out of space over here," Runion said, commenting that the Town Hall does not have room for anymore departments.

The Guilderland Rockclimbing Adventure Building or GRAB, located next to the community gardens and across Route 146 from the Winter Recreation area, will also be a part of the park overhaul.

The 2007 budget allows for the replacement the roof on the barn and also adds restrooms. Right now, there are only portable toilets on the premise.

Pool rehab

Runion also said he wants a new pool.

"It’s time to look at rehabbing the pool," Runion told fellow board members at the budget workshop.

The pool and the pool house were built in the late 1960’s, according to town records, and they have recently begun to show their age, according to Runion. The pool renovations will include the pool itself, the pool house, and the immediate surrounding area.

This winter, the pool house will be renovated in time to open next spring. Then, at the end of next September, the concrete for the new pool will be poured so that it will be ready for the following season.

The Tawasentha pool will not close for the renovations, Runion said.

Town labor will also be used for the pool project, and both the pool and the bridge at Tawasentha will be bonded to cover costs.

As for the golf course, there will be no increase in greens fees or memberships, only a slight increase for cart use due to energy costs. This wasn’t a great year for the golf course because of the weather, said Runion, but he added that the attendance was similar to last year’s.

The only thing that cannot be added, said Runion, is an outdoor ice skating rink. Because of the difficulties involved with maintenance and weather issues, it simply is not feasible.

Runion concluded, "There will be something there for everyone."


Fund balance too high
GCSD get good grades on audit

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In a 49-page state-required audit, Dorfman-Robbie, Certified Public Accountants reports only one instance the school district here is not in compliance.

Guilderland’s unreserved, undesignated fund balance was outside the limit set by state law; the rainy-day account is not supposed to be greater than 2 percent of the district’s budget for the upcoming school year.

Alan Walther of Dorfman-Robbie, who presented the report to the school board last Tuesday, said that about half the districts his firm audits are over the 2-percent limit.

At the board’s first meeting in November, Superintendent Gregory Aidala said, he and Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders will present options on how to address the issue.

Sanders said this week that administrators will work with the school board’s newly-formed business practices committee to come up with options for the $999,200 surplus. Nothing has been proposed yet, he told The Enterprise.

Peter Golden, who chairs that committee, suggested at last Tuesday’s meeting that board members’ ideas about curriculum might "dovetail" with the discussion and those ideas could be e-mailed to the superintendent.

President Richard Weisz warned against putting the cart before the horse. He attributed the excessive fund balance to the district’s receiving "a lot more in state aid than expected after we passed the budget."

Sanders explained that the budget cannot be amended, for example, to add new courses.

"But we could establish reserves," said board member Thomas Nachod.

Several years ago, state legislation was proposed that would have raised the percentage a school district could keep in its fund balance, which many consider to be sound fiscal practice, allowing school districts, for instance, to meet payrolls without borrowing. Governor George Pataki opposed the increase, preferring districts set up reserves for specific purposes.

Sanders told The Enterprise this week that there are limits under the law for amending the budget. "As a general rule, it wouldn’t be possible to initiate a new program," he said. "It has to be unanticipated expenses at the time the budget was approved."

Guilderland currently has six reserve funds, each, Sanders said, "established for a particular purpose"; the district has reserve funds for workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, repairs, retirement contributions, tax certiorari, and employee benefits and accrued liabilities.

The auditor’s report lists a number of reserve funds, in addition to the ones the district has already set up, including: capital reserve, to pay for bonds; reserve for tax reduction; reserve for debt service; property loss and liability reserve; reserve for insurance recoveries; and reserve for encumbrances.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said at last Tuesday’s meeting that, if courses couldn’t be added, she felt comfortable saving the extra money for next year "even though it’s against the law."

"Highest level of assurance"

The report, which the board unanimously accepted, analyzes the district’s financial performance over the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2006. It consists of three parts: management’s discussion and analysis, the basic financial statements, and required supplementary information.

In examining internal controls over financial reporting, the auditor identified no material weaknesses.

In looking at federal awards, the auditor again identified no material weaknesses in internal control over major programs.

The "unqualified" opinions in the report, Walther said, are "the highest level of assurance we can give."

"In a nutshell," he said, referring to the over-2-percent fund balance, "there is only one instance of noncompliance."

In May, the district’s $79 million budget passed with 56 percent voting for it, and the $828,200 proposition for 10 buses and a plow truck passed with 59 percent voting for it.

The district’s 2005-06 actual revenue exceeded its budgeted revenue by $1.9 million due primarily to "the receipt of funds related to additional investment income as a result of higher interest rates, additional state aid resulting from a consultant study, and larger than expected refunds of prior years’ expenses or E-rate and utility costs," the report says.

The district hired a firm to look at its state aid reimbursement for special education and received an extra $280,000, said Sanders, explaining what the auditors meant by aid resulting from a consultant study.

Sanders also told The Enterprise that "E-rate referred to a universal service fund customers pay on telephone and cable bills, assessed by the federal government. Schools can apply for these funds based on the number of students they have who receive free or reduced-price lunches, said Sanders.

In other highlights, the report says, the district’s expenditures were under spent by $1.2 million due largely to savings in instruction, special education, and employee benefits.

The school district’s total assessed valuation rose by $760 million, or 37.5 percent in the 2005-06 fiscal year, largely due to re-assessment in the town of Guilderland, which comprises 93 percent of the district’s tax base.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Appointed EthicsPoint to provide a fraud and abuse hotline service.

The district received two other proposals, Sanders said.

Weisz said that having a hotline is consistent with recommendations from the state comptroller’s office and Guilderland selected an option that has a "live person" staffing the hotline to assure confidentiality, so that callers don’t need to worry about being recorded.

This option is more expensive and will cost $2,200 for the year, said Sanders;

— Appointed Amy Draiss as a parent advocate on the district’s Committee on Preschool Special Education;

— Accepted the donation of about 40 three-ring binders from the Daughters of Charity;

— Adopted a policy on the admission of foreign students who are not immigrants but are, rather, part of recognized exchange programs;

— Continued discussion of board members’ priorities for the upcoming year. President Weisz has asked that members reach consensus on one or two top priorities at the next meeting, Oct. 24.

As board members again discussed priorities ranging from developing a technology curriculum to continuing to stress healthy eating, Superintendent Aidala said, "I don’t want to lose sight of the many excellent things happening in the district...

"I would take exception to the idea we get a curriculum and drop it in place...We need to plan and get people involved...We have a lot of initiatives underway."

Board Vice President John Dornbush concluded that nothing board members said "is meant as criticism." He stated, "We just want to move things forward...We want to work with our staff";

— Heard from Nancy Andress, assistant superintendent for instruction, that Debra Wing, Westmere Elementary kindergarten teacher and author, will present a workshop in November at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, in Atlanta, Ga.;

— Learned that art teacher Mary K Weeks and her fifth-grade students at Westmere Elementary School will, again, design a special window display at The Little Bookhouse in Stuyvesant Plaza for Winter Festival 2006.

The students will also work with graphic artist Nick Acemoglu;

— Heard congratulations for Isabelle Doyle, a Guilderland Elementary School fourth-grader whose poem, "Sun Has Risen," was published in Skribblers, a literary newsletter of children’s works;

— Heard about the Farnsworth Bureau of Investigation led by eighth-grade science teachers Carol Kelly, Todd Hilgendorff, and Julie Long, in which students used science, technology, forensic, and research skills to identify the unknown remains of a famous scientist;

— Learned that the Committee on Diversity will sponsor a workshop on Saturday, Nov. 18, to introduce parents to the National Coalition Building Institute. NCBI is an international leadership training organization that has, since 1984, worked to end prejudice. The program is available to middle-school and high-school staff and students at Guilderland.

Registration is required and is limited to 25 participants. Andress said that, so far, only three people had signed up. Those interested in registering should contact Castila Commisso by phone at the district office at 456-6200, ext. 3123 or by e-mail at commissoc@guilderlandschools.org by Nov. 9;

— Heard that the Guilderland Music Faculty and Friends will hold a recital on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. in the high school’s auditorium. Teachers from every grade level, administrators, and students will perform.

The public is invited. There is no admission charge but donations will be collected, to be given to the Nation’s Food Bank Network; and

— Met in closed session to discuss a student issue and to review administrators’ performance.

No actions were taken after the executive session, Aidala told The Enterprise this week.


On the wings of success
Pine Bush Preserve wins national award

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has shared an important award from the Natural Areas Association, a 26-year-old national group that promotes public understanding and appreciation of natural areas and natural diversity.

The commission along with the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park were given the Carl N. Becker Stewardship Award last month. The award, to recognize major contributions to managing, restoring, or saving natural areas, was for conserving the habitat of the Karner blue butterfly, which is listed as an endangered species by both the state and federal governments.

"To be recognized by an organization like the Natural Areas Association is really prestigious," said Christopher Hawver, executive director of the commission, this week. "It says we’re doing it right.

He told The Enterprise, "It means a lot to me and to our staff and the community. We’ve been doing habitat restoration for years. We learned through trial and error. Now we’ve got it down."

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission has protected about 3,010 acres of pine bush and about 1,600 acres are protected by the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.

The Wilton preserve is a not-for-profit organization in Saratoga County that works to protect natural habitat and provides the public with a network of trails for recreational use, said Hawver.

"We work together, sharing staff and resources," he said of the two preserves. "Much of the habitat work we’ve done, we’ve exported to Wilton," he said. This includes planting lupine, which the Karner blue depends on, along with other native plants; opening habitat; and removing forest trees, said Hawver.

A viable population of the Karner blue is about 3,000. Seven years ago, there were barely 1,000 in the Albany Pine Bush, down from 65,000 in 1980, and millions in the 1940’s.

"The basic theory is, if you have an occupied area, build around it," said Hawver, describing habitat being re-created around places the butterflies already occupy. "We’ve had butterflies occupy areas we’ve restored," he said with satisfaction.

Asked about the effects of homeowners or businesses landscaping with native plants, Hawver said, that provides a "valuable buffer," softening the effect after development.

In accepting the award, Neil Gifford, conservation director for the Pine Bush Commission, said it strengthened the commission’s resolve in its mission and "motivates our on-the-ground conservation efforts — from implementing prescribed fire at the urban interface to restoring Karner blue butterfly habitat."

Gifford also said, "This has been a strong team effort," and he credited both public and private efforts, naming The Nature Conservancy, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and the federal forest and fish and wildlife services.

"The commission is proud of what we have been able to accomplish," he concluded, "but knows that we have much more work to do if we are to succeed in recovering the Karner blue butterfly and restoring the barrens for future generations."


Well connected
Budget call for bridge to join 600 acres of parkland

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Town parks usually provide green space, a playground or two, maybe even a baseball diamond or tennis court with a pavilion to have cookout.

But the town of Guilderland is asking, ‘Why stop there"’

Supervisor Kenneth Runion is calling for an all-out, multi-seasonal recreation center — all without a parks fee.

"Basically, we have 600 acres in the center of town where you can go golfing, play baseball, basketball or tennis, go to the Guilderland Performing Arts Center, have a garden, or go swimming, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, walking, or hiking, fishing, and simply enjoy yourself any time of year," said Runion

The supervisor has earlier cited studies showing municipalities attract new residents and satisfy current residents if they offer recreational opportunities.

Runion wants it to come together at Tawasentha.

Tawasentha Park, named for the veil that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made famous in Son of Hiawatha, is in the center of town. Currently the park borders the town-owned Western Turnpike Golf Course, the largest municipal facility, and is broken up into several different sections.

Runion wants it all to be connected.

The 2007 town budget draft of $18 million makes way for an improved park system with Tawasentha at its focus. Next year’s total parks budget is $709,072, up less than 5 percent from this year’s $676,419. The 2007 expenditures are just $7,000 more than 2005.

The town is keeping costs down by having different town departments cooperate, sharing equipment so it doesn’t sit idle, and also uses college students for interns to do park work, saving in salary costs, Runion said.

"This is something I’ve been trying to get people to do for five or six years now," Runion said, adding, "Sharing is a priority."

One of the key elements to connecting all of these natural amenities, Runion told The Enterprise, is to put a bridge in Tawasentha to cross the Normanskill.

"The problem is we have no linkage for the trails"We need to cross the Normanskill," Runion said during last month’s budget workshop. "It would take several couple-hundred-acre parks and turn it into one whole 600-acre park.

The town has applied for numerous grants from the county and the state for park projects, but, said Runion, most are denied because there is no connectivity to the trails. They are what are called looping trials, and essentially "go nowhere," said Runion.

With a bridge over the river, trails can be connected, the park will be unified, and grant applications will have a much better chance of being successful, according to Runion.

"We always applied for grants for looping trails and it goes nowhere because there’s no linkage"This opens up future avenues for possible grants," he told The Enterprise last week.

Work is already underway on connecting trails that will run all the way from the golf course to the winter recreation area and down to the Normaskill where a bridge will be placed next summer. There will be both summer and winter trails, for hiking and biking, or skiing and snowshoeing.

"If you put in that bridge, it just opens up this spectacular land," said Runion. "If we tried to duplicate what we’ve got there, it would cost millions of dollars to add all of those features."

The engineering plans and surveying are already underway for the $96,000 bridge and money has been allocated for it in the preliminary 2007 budget to be voted on in November.

Concrete bridge abutments will be poured next spring, Runion said, and the bridge will in place by the middle of next summer. Installing the bridge will take only two or three days because once the forms are in place, which act as anchors to the bridge, a prefabricated bridge will brought in by truck and placed over the stream with a crane.

The bridge abutments, along with rental cost for equipment, will added another $25,000 to $50,000 to the project. Town labor will used.

Park’s center

To complement the park initiative, the town’s Parks and Recreation Department is moving across the street from Tawasentha Park at the old Inga Barth’s florist shop on Route 146. The sale of the building was closed a couple of weeks ago, and now it is being renovated as the new department headquarters.

The town will officially open the building later this fall.

"I got a telephone call from the owner of the building," Runion said when asked about the move. "I was hesitant at first, but then I thought about it for a while and decided it was a perfect spot."

There are greenhouses attached to the building, which the town will use to grow flowers for its municipal landscaping and town-wide beautification projects.

In conjunction with the community gardens up the road a few hundred yards, the new building can help build "more of an educational environment," according to Runion.

"People run out to Lowe’s and Home Depot and buy plants grown in southern climates and expect them to grow perfectly in their backyards. Now we can teach people what grows well here along with identifying indigenous plants," Runion said.

The Parks and Recreation Department is currently located behind Town Hall, and, after the move, its former offices will be used for other town functions.

"We’re maxing out of space over here," Runion said, commenting that the Town Hall does not have room for anymore departments.

The Guilderland Rockclimbing Adventure Building or GRAB, located next to the community gardens and across Route 146 from the Winter Recreation area, will also be a part of the park overhaul.

The 2007 budget allows for the replacement the roof on the barn and also adds restrooms. Right now, there are only portable toilets on the premise.

Pool rehab

Runion also said he wants a new pool.

"It’s time to look at rehabbing the pool," Runion told fellow board members at the budget workshop.

The pool and the pool house were built in the late 1960’s, according to town records, and they have recently begun to show their age, according to Runion. The pool renovations will include the pool itself, the pool house, and the immediate surrounding area.

This winter, the pool house will be renovated in time to open next spring. Then, at the end of next September, the concrete for the new pool will be poured so that it will be ready for the following season.

The Tawasentha pool will not close for the renovations, Runion said.

Town labor will also be used for the pool project, and both the pool and the bridge at Tawasentha will be bonded to cover costs.

As for the golf course, there will be no increase in greens fees or memberships, only a slight increase for cart use due to energy costs. This wasn’t a great year for the golf course because of the weather, said Runion, but he added that the attendance was similar to last year’s.

The only thing that cannot be added, said Runion, is an outdoor ice skating rink. Because of the difficulties involved with maintenance and weather issues, it simply is not feasible.

Runion concluded, "There will be something there for everyone."


Planners OK dividing two lots despite concerns about a tank and farming

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Resident John Raucci received subdivision approval from the planning board for his property on East Lydius Street last week, even though an oil tank is purportedly buried on the newly-created lot.

"I’m not sure what it is," Raucci told the board. "I see two vent lines coming out of the earth."

Raucci owns a home at 3157 East Lydius Street, and he purchased the adjacent home at 3149 East Lydius Street. He is dividing the 3.5-acre property of the second home into two lots, with the home now placed on a smaller lot.

Raucci said that he will sell the home on the front lot, and keep the rear, undeveloped lot, which he may subdivide later. The oil tank may be buried behind the home’s garage.

"It may be an oil tank that heated the house," said planning board Chairman Stephen Feeney. He said that Raucci would address issues about the tank when he came back to further subdivide the rear property.

Neither Feeney nor town Planner Jan Weston knew of standards to be met for private underground tanks.

"The subdivision does impact those tanks," said planning board Attorney Linda Clark. "I think it’s a fair question for the planning board."

"It’s still an environmental issue," said board member Thomas Robert.

"We could condition approval on [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] petroleum storage requirements," Feeney said. "Is it mandatory for it to come out" I don’t know." He said that the tank could be leaking and affecting nearby groundwater, although the lots, themselves, have access to public water and sewer.

"I don’t think it really matters"if it’s buried and not affecting anything," DEC representative Lori O’Connell told The Enterprise.

O’Connell said that the DEC does not regulate the subdivision of property, unless there is evidence of a spill. Tanks over 1,100 gallons, which are usually commercial-sized, must be registered with the DEC and in compliance with its regulations, she said. No tank of that size is registered at Raucci’s address, O’Connell said, nor is one expected to be on the residential property.

No town residents spoke at the public hearing for the subdivision.

Raucci must also submit a signed and stamped plan before approval is granted.

Farming or carving"

Loretta Saluzzo-Cox received board approval to subdivide her property on Frenchs Hollow Road, but neighbors spoke out about the future of farming in Guilderland and the effect the subdivision will have on the character of the neighborhood.

Saluzzo-Cox asked to subdivide her 6.1 acres into two lots to create a 2.5-acre building lot for her parents. Her home is a two-family house with an in-law apartment. Her property is zoned for agriculture.

Gail Hein, a neighbor who, she said, helped on the committee to create a plan for rural Guilderland, objected to the subdivision. She said that the plan promoted keeping patches of wild habitat, and protecting scenic roads like Frenchs Hollow Road. She also said that rural character is good for bicycling. She said that the purpose of agricultural zoning is to protect open land. Hein said that allowing the subdivision would be chipping away at agricultural land.

Weston said that single-family houses are permitted in agricultural zoning areas. The two-family home, the board said, was grandfathered in.

"We are powerless to deny this subdivision. We couldn’t legally deny this subdivision," Feeney said. He said that cutting up only six acres would not affect farmland like cutting up larger parcels. Feeney said that the parcel is already small at six acres, and that one can do "some, but not much, farming on six acres."

A second neighbor worried that the additional home would allow apartment renters, rather than single-family homeowners, in a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes. Saluzzo-Cox’s home is currently under construction for an addition.

The board said that two families are allowed to live in the original structure, and that persons occupying the in-law apartment must provide proof of relation each year. Weston said that, if an owner rents a single-family home, the arrangement is not the town’s concern. Everything about the current construction is legal and has all the required permits, Weston said.

Other business

At recent meetings, the planning board:

— Continued a public hearing for Michael Whalen for a two-lot subdivision of 2.8 acres at 3 Brooks Road. Whalen said that he met with the town assessor, who told him that they own the road. However, the surveyor Whalen hired, O.J. Meyer, of Albany, did not stamp or certify that Whalen owns Brooks Road, or indicate an existing easement, the board said.

"Access is kind of a critical point of saying we can grant subdivision of a property," Feeney said.

"There are a lot of different ways you can have ‘ownership’ of a road," said Linda Clark, the planning board’s attorney. She suggested that Whalen consult an attorney.

Feeney said that, if Whalen does not own the road, he may have the right to cross it. He may not have the right to subdivide property, and then grant that right to someone else, Feeney said.


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