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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 25, 2007

Board scrutinizes bus purchases

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — School board members had plenty of questions Tuesday night about the district’s usual procedure for replacing school buses.

In recent years, the district has retired used buses on a regular schedule; each bus is replaced after a decade of use.

In keeping with this practice, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders proposed for next year purchasing five 65-passenger buses for $461,800; three 30-passenger buses for $153,150; and three 24-passenger buses that can also hold wheelchairs for $175,050; along with a pickup truck with a plow for $45,000.

State aid would cover about half of the bus-purchase cost of $790,000 over the five-year life of the bond, Sanders said.

Guilderland has 91 operating buses and 24 spare buses; when new buses are purchased, the old ones become spares, Sanders said.

"I’m famous for old Volvos," said board member Hy Dubowsky, stating that they could go for hundreds of thousands of miles, and asking how that compared to school buses.

Sanders responded that inspection of school buses is more stringent than of passenger cars. "We can’t patch rust," he said, as an example. The standards, he said, are "much higher."

Sanders also said that a Guilderland bus typically makes runs to three different schools in a single day — at the elementary, middle-school, and high-school levels — putting on a lot of mileage. The fleet travels 1.5 million miles annually, he said.

Board member Denise Eisele asked several questions about the wheelchair buses.

They are "re-configurable" buses, said Sanders, explaining each bus can be set up to seat 24 students or to hold five wheelchair stations, or a combination of seats and wheelchair stations.

This offers "a great deal of flexibility," Sanders said.

Board President Richard Weisz expressed concern about the large number of spare buses, "particularly when we see a projection of fewer kids," he said.

According to Superintendent Gregory Aidala, 5,551 students were enrolled in Guilderland schools last year; 5,425 are enrolled this year; and 5,006 are projected in five years.

If the five-year plan is to shrink the district 10 percent, Weisz asked, shouldn’t the number of buses also shrink 10 percent.

Although enrollment is declining, said Sanders, "We continue to gain special-needs students." The district is required to transport special-needs students to various venues deemed appropriate for their education.

Of the 24 spares, 15 are 65-passenger buses, five are 24 passenger/wheelchair buses, one is a 30-passenger bus and three are Suburbans "to shuttle small numbers of students," Sanders said.

He then explained the need for 24 spare buses.

Typically five or six are held for state-required inspections by the Department of Transportation, he said. "They go over them with a fine-tooth comb," said Sanders.

Seven or eight buses at a time are being repaired, he said.

Two to eight buses are used for sports trips when the buses from the regular runs aren’t back in time, said Sanders.

And, sometimes buses are sent out for warrantee or body-shop work.

"Often times, we’re fairly depleted," he concluded.

Weisz asked to see a list of the daily use of spare buses to "see how deep we go in that 24" and how often; Sanders said he would get the list to board members.

Board member Peter Golden asked how long it takes to receive a bus, once it is ordered. Sanders replied that it can take 90 to 120 days to build a bus.

"Why does the larder have to be so full"" asked Golden. He suggested the money could be set aside and used to purchase buses later.

"Legally, we have some requirements," said Sanders. From the state’s point of view, said Sanders, "An emergency purchase is a bus catching on fire." Deciding to have an option to wait is not seen as an emergency, he said.

The board is slated to vote on the proposal at its next meeting, Feb. 6. If it passes, the proposition will be included with the May 15 budget vote.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard an abbreviated state-of-the-district address from Superintendent Aidala. The full address, an annual event, will be broadcast on public-access channel 16; the times are posted on the district’s website — www.guilderlandschools.org;

— Established a Facilities Committee to "maximize the use of the district’s $1.778 million in state EXCEL aid," as discussed at the last meeting;

— Appointed volunteers to the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee — Linda Bakst, Anderson Bryan, James Denn, Daniel Jacobowitz, Karen Keane, David Langenbach, and Sean McGuire.

The board is still hoping for more members before the first of six sessions on March 1;

— Heard congratulations for the Farnsworth Middle School Future City Team from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress. (See related story.) The team won first place in regional competition and will go on to the national finals in Washington, D.C.;

— Learned that the Guilderland athletic program was named overall winner for the fall season for the Sportsmanship Award.

Overall winners were the boys’ cross-country team, coached by Bob Oates, the girls’ cross-country team, coached by Dave Kosier; and the girls’ volleyball team, coached by Warren Bollinger.

Four Guilderland teams also got third-place honors — field hockey, coached by Kelly Vrooman; girls’ soccer, coached by Barb Newton; girls’ swimming, coached by Brenna Autrey; and boys’ volleyball, coached by Kim Buckley;

—Learned that three Farnsworth students were selected to participate in the New York State Middle School Honor Bands in March — Jonathan Bintz on trombone, Paul Travers on trumpet, and Matthew Walsh on clarinet;

— Heard that two middle school teachers — Deborah Escobar, an enrichment teacher, and Julie Long, a science teacher — and three high-school English teachers — Aaron Sicotte, Erin McNamara, and Dan McBride — have been inducted into the National Honor Roll’s Outstanding American Teachers;

— Learned that a presentation for parents and guardians of preschool children with special needs who will enter school in September of 2007 will be held on Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Lynnwood Elementary School;

— Heard that 65 students have their posters and writing featured at the annual Martin Luther King Art and Writing Series at Siena College. Their names are posted on the district’s website;

— Heard that senior Christine Ragone took first place in the Interfaith Poster Contest, "A Taste of Albany";

— Learned that senior Ben Zucker took first place in an art contest sponsored by Drexel Univeristy for a black and white photographic portrait;

— Learned that junior David Heaphy will have a three-dimensional piece displayed at the Annual CAAS Art in 3D Student Show at Niskayuna High School from Jan. 31 to Feb. 15;

— Accepted a stationary bike donated to Lynnwood Elementary School by Jitendra and Elizabeth Pradhan and accepted a trumpet from Carol Muztafago to be used at Farnsworth Middle School;

— Heard from board members who participated in coffee klatches with the public that they were a success and should be continued; and

— Met in executive session for a litigation update and to discuss administrative personnel performance reviews.

Future City winners — again
Farnsworth students earn moment in the sun

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — It’s on to the nation’s capital for La Playa del Sol.

For the second year in row, a team of Farnsworth Middle School students has built a Future City that won the regional competition, part of National Engineers Week, and will now compete in Washington, D.C. for national honors.

The Farnsworth students, competing against 24 local middle-school teams, also came away with trophies for Best Essay, BestSim City Design, Best Performance, and the People’s Choice Award for Favorite City.

With SimCity software, students who create livable cities are rewarded by having them grow as residents move in; they learn the importance of good infrastructure like water and power and transportation.

The students also had to write an essay about an assigned engineering design problem and make a presentation as well as build a city model.

The Farnsworth students learned from last year’s competition. For instance, they noticed the winning cities had a color scheme and so they built their Beach in the Sun — set on the California coast — in shining silver with sea-colored accents of blue and aqua.

"Last year’s was a mish-mash," said eighth-grader Alex Dvorscak of the random colors on the model he helped build. "When we went to nationals, we noticed a lot of them followed a certain pattern."

He built a skyscraper this year. "It’s a mixture of residential and commercial; people can live in the same building where they work," said Dvorscak.

Beneath the pretty surface is solid research.

Seventh-grader Mike Dvorscak got interested in the project through his brother’s work last year. He built the hydroponics center for growing plants indoors. "We found some articles on-line for things being built like it today," he said.

"We merged reality with futuristic ideas," said eighth-grader Dan Sipzner, who was also on last year’s team.

He pointed out the city’s flying electrical generator, describing it as "a large helium-filled blimp about the size of a football field."

It is built of applesauce containers atop wire from a clothes hanger.

Dan’s father, Robert Sipzner of Barton and Loguidice, helped the team of 10 students and four alternates as an engineer mentor.

Tom McGreevy, a Farnsworth technology teacher, and Deborah Escobar, the school’s enrichment teacher, coached the team. Team members like eighth-grader Haejin Hwang had taken Escobar’s course called "Future Engineers and Architects."

Hwang wants to be a medical doctor but enjoys stretching herself in different ways. "I used a lot of my talent and my creativity," she said of working on the Future City project.

She used the dome-shaped clear plastic tops of cups for Slushies to build a hotel that is both above and below ground.

Hwang also helped create a building in the shape of a star.

"They cut 20 stars out of foam board," said Escobar.

"But then the edges weren’t even," said Hwang.

"I brought in Spackle," said Escobar. "It looks wonderful."

Seventh-grader Adison Vanina, who built the city’s lock and canal of balsa wood, enjoyed the project, he said, "Because I like building stuff.

Jesse Feinman, who will represent the team in Washington along with Hwang and Sipzner, built a plant that separates water into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen. And he built a government complex.

But it’s not all work and no play in the Future City. La Playa del Sol has an indoor ski slope capped with metalized polyester which, Feinman said, "is used in real life for insulation in spacecraft; it’s efficient in heat transfer," he said.

He got the idea for an indoor ski slope from a real one in Dubai in the Middle East.

Escobar said she learned from her students, too. She was amazed, she said, how they bent the wood to form the frame for the roof of the ski complex. "I didn’t know wood could bend," she said.

Her favorite part of the high-tech city is a simple detail.

"Look at the little sailboats they made, each with its own wake," said Escobar. "They give it life."

Concerns raised in Westmere
Cell-phone antennas all along the water tower

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — New concerns were raised by residents about the "cumulative effects" of radio frequency radiation following an application for new telecommunications antennas on the Westmere water tower.

Nextel Partners Inc. applied for a special-use permit last Wednesday to place 12 new cellular telephone antennas in town. The application was tabled until the Feb. 7 zoning board meeting by a unanimous vote after board members asked for additional information.

The antennas are to be placed at 90 feet on the water tower, below already existing cellular antennas from other providers, and the plans also call for a 12-by-20-foot "usage shelter" at the base of the tower.

The water tower is about 140 feet tall and located off of Gipp Road in a residential area in Westmere.

The added antennas are needed, the Nextel representative said, to penetrate places like Crossgates Mall.

Three providers already pay rent to the town for antenna space —Verizon, IWO, and T-Mobile. This application would make Nextel, which has merged with Sprint, the fourth. Rent money from antennas on town water towers are put into the Water and Wastwater Department’s annual budget.

Steve Elsbree, a site-acquisition consultant, presented the application to the board on behalf of Nextel and answered questions from board members and one area resident.

Since the water tower was recently painted green, the proposed antennas would be painted to match the tower, said Elsbree.

Chairman Peter Barber asked Elsbree about any health effects which could result from the antennas either immediately or over time.

"It’s a common question," Elsbree said. "It’s a misconception"The power output is similar to your hand held device," he said about the antennas’ output energy.

"Only one antenna out of four transmits; the others receive," he said. "These are specialized antennas." Elsbree told the board that the antennas would only produce .004 percent of the maximum exposure limit set by the Federal Communication Commission, less than 1 percent of the total limit.

"It is well below the controlled limits," he said.

Barber wanted to know more about possible long-term effects the cell towers could cause, he said at the meeting.

"The Telecommunications Act sets forth guidelines that municipalities have to comply with," Barber said. "I think the concern is the cumulative effect."

Last year, residents expressed concerns about radio frequency radiation from cellular antennas on the Fort Hunter water tower, which is located next to the Pine Bush Elementary School.

"Realistically, you’re not going to be in the main beam of all four carriers at the same time," said Elsbree of the antennas on the Westmere tower which are placed around the tower in order to have 360 degrees of coverage.

Penetrating malls

Elsbree told the board that Nextel has looked at other buildings on the south side of Western Avenue and Washington Avenue Extension to place its antennas.

"It’s a specialized area where it needs to be located," Elsbree said. Cell phone providers are installing additional antennas in coverage areas in order to penetrate places like Crossgates Mall and the 20 Mall for their subscribers, according to Elsbree.

"There’s more in-building service, which carriers are now providing more of," he said.

Some board members took issue with this concept.

"Are we coming to the point where we’re going to have a tower on every corner"" asked board member, James Sumner. "How far is this going to go""

"I don’t think you’ll see one on every corner, but you’ll see more in-building service," Elsbree responded. "As a user, inside of 20 Mall you can’t use your cell phone, that’s an area of concern."

Sumner again asked, "How far could it go""

"Basically the customer drives the site design and the extensiveness of the network"Site statistics drive the demand," Elsbree said.

"Where does this leave our public"" asked Sumner.

"That leaves the public with a device that they can use wherever they want, however they want," Elsbree answered.

Board member Charles Klaer asked Elsbree about cellular technology being used today and how it is evolving.

"It’s not any different then every Starbucks or Borders that has wireless Internet and every resident that has it; it’s all the same technology," said Elsbree. "You can park in front of my house and jump on my Internet; it’s unprotected."

Klaer then asked Elsbree about future wireless technologies that could be implemented, and if the installations would continue to become increasingly smaller.

"Around the water cooler, what are you guys talking about"" Klaer asked.

"I’m just an engineer," answered Elsbree, but continuing, he did cite test areas in New York City where Internet routers are being mounted on utility poles.

Klaer also brought up a Danish study that linked cell phone use to brain tumors.

The study he spoke of found an increase for acoustic neuromas, or non-cancerous brain tumors, after 10 years of cell phone use.

Microwaves like those found in cell phones heat up tissue just as a microwave oven heats food. Scientists conducting this study say that the heat can alter cellular DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, which can cause tumors.

According to the National Brain Tumor Foundation, approximately 190,000 people in the United States and 10,000 in Canada will be diagnosed annually with a primary or metastatic brain tumor. Brain tumors are the leading cause of solid tumor death in children under the age of 20, which now surpasses acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Presently, brain tumors are treated by surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, or some combination of those.

There are over 120 different types of brain tumors that make effective treatment complicated, according to the foundation.

Resident’s concern

Liesse Mohr, a 30-year resident who lives at 56 Gipp Rd. near the Westmere water tower, spoke about several concerns during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

"I have been through this; this is my third time here," said Mohr. "At what point are there too many antennas""That’s 28 antennas on one piece of equipment."

Mohr said she hoped trees and vegetation would not be cut down for the utility shed’s construction, because it would make the base of the water tower more visible. She joked that she and her husband referred to the tower as "the mother ship," but later added, "As a resident living next to it, to be honest, it’s not so ugly."

She was also concerned about possible noise and lighting issues.

Mohr does not want lights on the utility shed. Light from below the water tower makes a "ring of light" around the bottom of the tower, creating the image of a stove burner, she said.

"It just draws attention to something that’s a huge behemoth out there," she added.

Her main concern, however, was about the cumulative radio frequency from the cell towers.

Mohr asked Elsbree about the cumulative percentages or the "sum of percentages" of all the antennas’ radiation coming from the tower.

If those numbers were provided, Mohr contended, the "zoning board could then feel comfortable saying there are 20 antennas here, now move on to another site"Wait until the others lose some business or something and then we’ll have some room for you."

Mohr said the proximity of the water tower made her concerned about how many antennas were on it.

"That’s coming directly into my sunroom," Mohr said about possible radio frequency. "I would like to know realistically how much is coming into my house."

She asked Nextel to take an actual reading from inside of her home.

Barber asked Elsbree to submit a report before the next meeting detailing the cumulative amount of radio frequency in the area as well as the sum of percentages.

"It’s up to you guys to monitor this and regulate it," Mohr concluded. "It’s a mystery why the FCC doesn’t follow through, but they don’t."

No tenting for Orchard Creek patrons, pavilion approved

By Jarrett Carroll

ALTAMONT — Local golf enthusiasts won’t be hanging out in a tent next summer at the Orchard Creek Golf Course.

The zoning board last Wednesday unanimously approved an amendment to Orchard Creek’s special-use permit to construct a 60-by-120-foot pavilion.

The pavilion will replace the 30-by-45-foot tent, currently next to the clubhouse, and could hold a maximum of 250 people.

Daniel Abbruzzee, one of Orchard Creek’s owners, told the board that the pavilion will rarely have more than 144 people, which is the maximum number of people who can play the 6,553-yard, 18-hole golf course. The pavilion is so large, he said, to store golf carts in the winter.

The club’s 65 golf carts are currently stored at the Altamont fairgrounds during the off season.

"It will mirror the clubhouse and look very attractive," Abbruzzee told the zoning board. "We are going to put bathrooms in"We just have to wait for Altamont to give us water."

The golf course is located outside of the village limits. Altamont currently has a moratorium on granting new water outside its boundaries. A new village well is expected to be on line in February.

The open, free-standing pavilion will not be heated but will have lighting. Abbruzzee said the pavilion will primarily be used for barbecues and golf outings in the warmer months and as storage in the winter ones.

Abbruzzee also asked to add 60 new parking spaces in order to alleviate parking congestion at peak times.

Lighting outside of the pavilion will not be necessary, according to the board, pending a review by the town’s chief building inspector and zoning administrator, Donald Cropsey, who could not attend last Wednesdays meeting.

"If I don’t need those lights, that’s perfectly fine with me," Abbruzzee said.

Neighbors’ worries

Glen and Ann Barker of 4066 Becker Road, whose home is adjacent to the golf course, raised some concerns to the zoning board about noise and lighting and the size of the pavilion.

"Originally, the Abruzzee brothers came over and turned the lights away from our home; they were very accommodating"If you can get along without additional lights, that would be wonderful," Barker told board members.

"Hopefully, the 144 will be the number and not the 250," Barker said of the pavilion’s maximum capacity.

Barker said his property line is 100 feet away from Orchard Creek, and his home is about 100 yards away from the site.

"Most of our golf outings start around 10 a.m. and they’re having dinner by 3 o’clock," Abbruzzee said of his normal hours of operation. "Our main business are events and golf outings."

He also said the majority of the outings are during the week, not on weekends.

Abbruzzee told board members that Orchard Creek’s standard hours of operation will remain the same with the new pavilion.

Last summer a band played at an Orchard Creek event and the Barkers asked if live entertainment would become more frequent once a large pavilion was added.

"We can hear them in the summer," Barker said. "If it’s going to be once or twice or three times, not a problem." But, Barker added, with people still driving home after 10 p.m., he didn’t want it to be a regular occurrence.

"Our concerns right now are more with the potential of problems in future," Barker said about Abbruzzee selling the golf course and having new owners come in with a 250-capacity pavilion.

"What we’ve had in the past hasn’t been a problem," Barker concluded.

Abbruzzee, hinting that he may be interested in selling Orchard Creek in a few years, said that he rarely has live entertainment and that he would work with the Barkers.

"Typically, if we are going to change anything, the brothers and I would talk to Glen first," Abbruzzee told the zoning board and added, "We’ve only had a few bands in the past seven years."

Abbruzzee also said that last summer the band playing was directly facing the Barkers’ home. With the new pavilion, he said, any live entertainment would be facing the wooded area across the street and not the Barkers’ home.

"I do think that, with this pavilion, they won’t hear it as much because of the direction," Abbruzzee said.

Zoning board chairman, Peter Barber, suggested that Abbruzzee let the town know ahead of time and get some kind of permit when there is live entertainment. This, Barber said, would allow the town to notify surrounding neighbors and alert people of the event.

Abbruzzee agreed to give a one-month notification.

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