[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2007

Town board wants Cass to stay closed, Gordon has other ideas

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Responding to widespread animosity and mistrust, the town board voted unanimously last Thursday to close the Cass Residential Center for delinquent youth.

Residents, adamant about closing the facility, applauded the town board’s resolution.

Cass is run by the state, and it appears the resolution may have no bearing on its operation, although Alexander Gordon, who represents the Hilltowns in the Albany County Legislature, told the crowd that the town could control Cass’s destiny and should first consider what it could be throwing away.

Gordon said a memorandum of understanding between the state’s Department of Conservation and the Office of Children and Family Services, the state agency that runs Cass, gives the town "an opportunity to participate."

Cass was recently emptied of its residents and is slated, for the short-term, to be used as a training facility for staff, a spokesman for OCFS told The Enterprise last week.

Seven youths had escaped from Cass in the last two years, and a kitchen worker was raped and kidnapped by a resident in 2004.

"I think that Camp Cass served a function," Gordon said. "I think there’s a function that Camp Cass can still serve"Is it the function that it served most recently" I don’t think so. But I don’t think that throwing it out is the smartest thing that the town could do," he said.

Residents showed disdain toward Gordon throughout the meeting; some turned hostile.

Resident Robert Bolte accused Gordon of meeting with Cass officials "three times a week behind our backs in favor of Camp Cass."

"Could we deal in facts, sir"" Gordon responded, adding that he met with Cass officials on Dec. 27 and Jan. 25.

"We don’t believe in the word ‘camp,’ and we, as a community, will close that damn thing," Bolte said.

"You do not represent us. You do not do your job," said Dorman, a member of Cass’s Citizens Advisory Board.

Gordon said last week he understands the impetus behind the motion to close the facility, but is unsure whether it will have any standing on how Cass operates. Gordon said there is "another direction that the town board could go in that could have a positive effect"."

"If the town board wants to actively amend how Cass operates, it needs to pass a resolution and send that on to the people that can make that change — our state legislators, Mr. McEneny, who is very receptive to this, and Mr. Breslin — and that’s how you can go forward with this," he said.

Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg was emphatic.

"There are other ways for us to go forward with it," said Nickelsberg, "and we have made a statement tonight in the most direct, dramatic, passionate terms. We have paid a horrific price with just one family, no less seven additional families"We’ve paid a horrific price to have a non-revenue-generating institution in this town.

"The town is unified against it, and we do not believe in being legislated without being represented, and we, the people — the owners of this town — are now telling you, our representative, ‘We do not want this institution in our town,’ and we expect you to carry that on."

The hall erupted with applause.

"That’s very clear on your part," Gordon responded.

Memorandum of Understanding

The memorandum of understanding between OCFS and the DEC outlines cooperative responsibilities between the two state agencies, and "provides guidance for the administration of sites on state lands under the jurisdiction of the [DEC]."

It was enacted in 2003 and will end in 2013, when it may be renewed.

The memorandum applies to all OCFS residential centers on land under the jurisdiction of the DEC — eight of the office’s 31 facilities.

The memorandum, Gordon told The Enterprise after the meeting, was sent to him from a person "who is very interested" in keeping Cass open. "There are a lot of them," he said. "They don’t come [to Town Hall]."

Cass, he said, generates $1 million in payroll.

"We have nowhere in this town to spend a dollar of that income," said Bolte at the meeting. "It all goes out of this town," he said, and added, "We only get the bad effects of Cass"."

Two weeks ago, the facility’s mission was changed from a delinquent detention center to a training facility for new state employees. Unions responded, saying OCFS violated a labor law by not giving a 12-month notice of its change. Last week, OCFS spokesman Brian Marchetti was unclear about the future of Cass, saying, "At this time, no children will be placed at Cass."

Seven youths escaped the facility in two years, and a Cass kitchen worker was raped at knife-point in December of 2004. Since the most recent escape in November, area residents, fearing for their safety, demanded answers from OCFS.

Gordon read a petition, on behalf of the woman who was raped, at the town board’s January meeting, calling for Cass Residential to close. Cass officials were invited to the meeting but declined; they attended a town meeting the following month.

The rape survivor told The Enterprise this week that Gordon’s comments last week were "a slap in the face."

"He appeared to be one way, and then he went the other way," she said, adding that she thinks Gordon "hurt himself politically."

Councilman Gary Chase speculated about Cass’s future at last week’s meeting, saying his biggest concern is that prisons are being consolidated statewide, and the state is shutting some down.

"If they decide to put that fence up at Camp Cass," he said, referring to a security measure OCFS officials had proposed, "they’re going to combine those facilities"and they will make that a more violent-offender-friendly facility," he said.

Chase said a fence was discussed at a special meeting last month, "and Sandy’s point was well taken because we should cover ourselves either way."

Putting something in the memorandum, Chase said, could limit the type of offenders that are placed at the facility. "Even though we don’t want this thing here," he added.

Nickelsberg was then more receptive to the memorandum, saying, "I think what you’re saying is you believe in controlling our destiny, and I think that’s a good idea. We should explore all the options and make sure we control our destiny."

Confusion, passion, and duty

"I’m extremely confused because I hear on television one day that it’s going to be used as a training center, and the next day, I hear that it’s going to be opened with juveniles in it," said a frustrated Rensselaerville resident.

"I have no idea who to believe. Are the news people reporting one thing, and then another without following up on details, or is it New York State not having any type of clarification in terms of what"is going to take place"" she asked.

Councilwoman Dorman responded, saying, "New York State does not know what they’re going to do".You, madam, are not the only one that’s confused. Everybody in this room is, and it’s not at the hands of the press. It’s at the hands of the Office of Children and Family Services."

"Who, at the end of the day, work for us. End of sentence," Nickelsberg said.

Cheryl Baitsholts, Rensselaerville’s dog-control officer, said that "while we’re very passionate," elected officials have to be impartial.

"This has been a situation that we’ve lived with for two years," Nickelsberg responded. "We had to be emphatic about the position that we have, and, I believe, also, that the health and welfare of the citizens of this town is first and foremost"and I think it’s a very definite, black-and-white issue," said Nickelsberg.

Baitsholts clarified, saying, "My personal opinion can’t enter the job. It seems like Sandy was caught in the cross-hairs, and I understand that and why, but we all have to do our jobs, and figure out the best way to work through things."

"And he was elected to represent us," Nickelsberg responded.

Hands and signs

A sign, saying "Keep Camp Cass Closed," was placed behind the town board at the beginning of last week’s meeting by resident and frequent volunteer, K.B. Cook. Cook recommended having signs made for town residents’ yards. Some residents put signs up this week along Rensselaerville roads.

As of Tuesday, two signs had been placed along Route 85, near the Rensselaerville-Westerlo border.

Prior to last week’s town board meeting, no residents had spoken out in favor of Cass at a board meeting. Nickelsberg asked for a show of hands of those in the hall in favor of closing the center. Of approximately 65 attending, all but five raised their hands.

Nickelsberg then asked for those who wanted Cass to remain open "in some form." Five residents, including Gordon, raised their hands. The supervisor then asked who was in favor of keeping the center open "with prisoners." The five in favor of Cass remaining open "in some form" again raised their hands.

"If you act as a town board and modify the agreement they operate under, you get to debate that issue. That’s what I’m telling you," Gordon said.

Resident Charles Howard James said that only a small number of town residents represented the town at Town Hall, and asked if the town could have a referendum. The attorney to the town, Ben Niedl, was uncertain and needed time to do research.

"A referendum would not be legal," Eamon Moynahan, spokesman for the Department of State, told The Enterprise this week, adding that there have been prior rulings, and a referendum would not have a lawful purpose and would cost money.

Are coyotes decimating deer" Milner says yes, DEC says no

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — The head of a local hunting group says that deer populations are dwindling because of predatory coyotes, but the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation says a number of factors contribute.

Jack Milner, president of the Whitetail Deer Association, a Westerlo-based hunting club, says the coyote population is on the rise and deer numbers are dwindling.

Coyotes, he said, are getting larger and eating fawns. Coyotes, he said, which typically weigh 15 to 45 pounds, have gotten progressively larger, with cases of 50- to 60-pound coyotes being killed. (See letter to the editor.)

"Do coyotes kill fawns" Absolutely they do," said Karl Parker, senior wildlife biologist for DEC Region 4. "They don’t just kill weak or diseased fawns," he said. A variety of reasons, he said, contribute to deer deaths — "human take" and "the take of predators" among them. Other factors, he said, include changes in weather and habitat qualities. Parker said it was unclear whether deer populations have declined; more research would have to be done, he said. "Things do change."

Hunters, Milner said, are no longer buying licenses because there isn’t any game. Milner said fewer fawns are showing up in herds. Of a pack of a dozen deer, he said, he’s seen 10 does to two fawns. Most does, he said, have two fawns.

"Where did all the fawns go"" he asked.

The association is meeting at Boreali’s Restaurant in Howe’s Cave on March 25 to raise money to subsidize coyote pelt prices for the 2007-08 hunting season.

"Vermin destroy far more game and fur-bearing animals than are taken by all the hunters and trappers combined," Milner says in a letter to The Enterprise editor.

"‘Vermin,’" Parker said, "is a catch-phrase for ‘anything that you don’t like.’" He added, "We don’t believe there are any vermin. All animals have their place."

Milner cites a 1939 license from the DEC that states: "Kill all you can of foxes, cats hunting protected birds, harmful hawks, red squirrels, and other enemies of useful wild life. You will benefit both the game and your own sport."

The hunting season for coyotes is from Oct. 1 to March 25, and the trapping season is Oct. 25 to Feb. 15.

In July of 2003, a ban on feeding deer was enacted to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease — a communicable fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk.

"Feeding deer artificially concentrates them in one location for extended periods of time," says the DEC. "CWD is most likely transmitted from deer to deer by direct contact between animals, or indirectly through contact with waste food, urine, and feces that build up at feeding sites, although the exact transmittal mechanism is currently unknown," the DEC says.

Milner questioned the ban, saying he has never seen feces and urine at deer feeding sites.

After 10 years, BKW students are Books ’R’ Us kids

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Nearly 10 years ago, two teachers had an idea, and that idea was in full swing Friday at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Elementary School.

The Books ’R’ Us program, offering students real-life encounters with the work world, was launched a decade ago by second-grade teacher Marlene Tiffany and former teacher and BKW School Board member Helen Lounsbury. Its premise, said Tiffany, is to promote a love of books and reading.

Friday, students, teachers, administrators, and parent volunteers celebrated 10 years of a successful enterprise.

The program allows students to work and shop at the basement bookstore, which is filled with new and used books.

Lounsbury retired from the district shortly before the program got its start and then served on the school board; she left her mark and continues to remain involved. She wrote the grant application for the program and made the store’s first purchase; the first dollar bill was framed to commemorate its beginning.

Upstairs, in Marlene Tiffany’s second-grade classroom, students, with paper teepee-shaped party hats atop their heads, held a brightly-colored caterpillar birthday cake and smiled widely as Tiffany took snapshots to commemorate the day.

"We love books," they cheered in unison.

"They love it"

"It’s our birthday," said John Francis Shahen, one of Tiffany’s second-grade students. "I’ve never worked in a store before," Shahen said. His favorite book, he said, is Arthur Babysits by Marc Brown.

Laura Simpson, another of Tiffany’s students, said her favorite book is Junie B. First Grader: Boo...and I Mean It by Barbara Park, one in a series of 32 Junie B. Jones books.

Shahen’s mother, Michelle, a parent volunteer, said of the program, "They love it."

"Who would have thought seven- and eight-year-olds could run a cash register"" she asked.

Tiffany’s second-graders rotate through the store’s three roles — new-book supervisor, used-book supervisor, and informational desk attendant. Classrooms visit the store throughout each month.

"It makes them feel special," said Shahen of children working at the store.

"We’re going to work at 12:15," Tiffany called out to her excited class.

Tiffany is baffled by the support and generosity of the community. Donations and books appear unexpectedly at the store, she said; money mysteriously shows up in the store’s cash register.

Books are flying off the shelves; empty slots are evidence of students’ interest in reading. Books are priced reasonably, selling for a quarter, a dollar, two dollars, or four dollars. If students don’t have money, they are given certificates to purchase books. They can also trade books they have read for new ones.

The money made from the store is used to buy new books, to keep the students up on their reading, said Michelle Shahan.

"Happy shopping"

Friday, two second-grade boys — Liam Hanley and Tyler Rapp — sat behind a cash register at the store, anticipating customers.

Third-graders would soon be arriving.

Surrounded by stacks of new and used books, Hanley and Rapp prepared for the students by taking turns practicing how to change a bill.

Mary Griggs-Longendyke, also a parent volunteer, helped Hanley and Rapp at the cash register.

Lisa Pede’s third-graders arrived and rigorously perused the stacks, looking for treasures. The third-graders felt at home, having worked at the book store last year. Pede is a former student teacher of Tiffany.

"Happy shopping," Tiffany said to her former students.

With a Harry Potter poster as a back-drop, students, with bills and quarters in hand, hovered over the stacks, and searched the store for books that interest them.

E.B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, and Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, books long in print, sat beside up-and-coming and other established children’s book authors.

Ten years ago

Ten years ago, as the book store opened and students explored work by doing it, storefronts were sprouting up throughout BKW Elementary — a bank, post office, and theater among them.

Dreams Unlimited, a pilot program, was started in 1996 by Tiffany and Lounsbury.

Tiffany came up with the idea after hearing then-Superintendent Robert Drake speak about school-to-work at a conference. In 1993, BKW began a tech-prep program, following a nationwide trend that had been slow to take root in New York State. Tech prep combines occupational and academic learning in a hands-on approach designed to prepare students for high-skill technical occupations.

Dreams Unlimited, Tiffany and Lounsbury told the BKW School Board in 1996, offers students "real-life encounters with the world of work."

Students’ dreams ranged from being a sniper or dirt-bike racer or rich businessman to being a mother or a rock-and-roll star or the first woman president.

Students took field trips to a variety of work places and had speakers from different professions visit their classrooms to share their expertise.

In the spring of 1996, the Pioneering Partners Foundation informed Lounsbury her team had been awarded a grant of $5,000.

"Your technology initiative was unanimously endorsed by the Pioneering Partners Foundation board of directors as one of the strongest applications ever received in our five-year history!" wrote President Stephen G. Lakis.

The grant money, augmented by volunteer labor and donations from the community, was used to build the storefronts throughout the school.

100 kids are off to see the Wizard, at BKW

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — With a cast of 80 middle- and high-school students, and nearly 20 others contributing to the production, a great and all-powerful Oz is coming to the Hilltowns this weekend.

The Wizard of Oz, made popular by the 1939 film, will be performed at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo secondary school Friday and Saturday night, with a matinee performance on Sunday.

Music teacher Coriellen Travis will direct her fifth BKW musical. Travis said she is in the middle of the most challenging show she has directed, simply because of the film’s popularity and familiarity.

"Every show," she said, "presents its own challenges."

Almost everyone, she said, knows the story from what they have seen in the movie, and it is difficult to put that on stage.

The BKW Elementary School principal, Brian Corey, will conduct the orchestra, which, he said, consists of professional musicians from the area.

Corey, in his first year as elementary-school principal, is getting back to his music roots. Prior to this school year, Corey taught instrumental music to BKW elementary-, middle-school, and high-school students.

Fab Four

Monday, Travis and Corey were beginning to put the finishing touches on the show, which features four seniors in their final production. Each is playing one of the four main characters — Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion.

Caitlyn Osterhout will play the displaced, out-of-Kansas Dorothy Gale; Drew Swint will courageously don a sweat-inducing lion costume; Jayson Villeneuve is oiled up to play the tin man; and Luke Brown will play the scarecrow, using his common sense as the puzzled band makes their way along the yellow brick road in hopes of obtaining what they think they lack.

Swint, Villeneuve, and Brown will also play Zeke, Hickory, and Hunk, a playful bunch of Midwestern pranksters, in the show’s opening Kansas scene.

All have acted in BKW musicals, and were in character Monday, enjoying their last week as players. "It’s been a blast," one said, and they all agreed. But, they said, it’s also sad since it’s their last production.

"It’s like family," Osterhout said of her counterparts and working with Travis. Osterhout, not yet in full costume, hadn’t yet put on her ruby red slippers, which the Wicked Witch envies throughout the show.

"I haven’t traveled to Oz yet," she laughed.

Swint, as the cowardly lion, said he "definitely" got the part he wanted. His character, he said, is "active," "scared," and "embracing."

Swint said the film, starring Judy Garland, had aired on the Turner Network Television channel the day before auditions.

Villeneuve, as the tin man, said he’d had his hopes on the lion role, but, he said, turning to Swint, "His part fits him more."

"It’s really free," said Brown of his role as the scarecrow — "brainless." Brown said that, by not being involved in sports, he "fell into music." He said of this weekend, "I hope everyone enjoys the show."

In their last performances at BKW, the four were uncertain about their future acting endeavors, mulling over the possibilities of acting on a college stage.

Director on Oz

Travis is very aware of the film’s place in American culture. Travis, who teaches music and coaches soccer, chose The Wizard of Oz because she has a large number of students — both younger and older — interested in musical theater.

"I wanted something that would afford my large group of talented seniors many roles but still a show that would allow my younger students to be involved," she said.

The Wizard of Oz, she said, "just seemed like the perfect fit."

Travis said she has been fascinated with The Wizard of Oz since she was a girl. Her mother, she said, would let her and her sisters and brothers stay up late once a year to watch it together on television.

"I am excited to be able to bring it to life on stage and I just hope our audience enjoys it as much as we have," she said.

Travis said she directs musicals hoping that at least some of her students take away with them the same amazing experiences she did when she was in high school.

She would not be the same person or teacher, she said, if it were not for her director and the opportunity to be part of a team working together to put on a show.

The large cast and crew has really come together on this production, she said. "I feel very lucky to be part of the BKW school community and that I have the opportunity to work with so many respectful and talented students everyday."

"Even during our most challenging rehearsals, they make me laugh — in a good way," she said. "I couldn't be more proud of this cast. They are fantabulous."

Out of Kansas

As the opening orchestral fanfare closes, Dorothy Gale finds her dog, Toto, alone and frightened, on the opposite side of the stage.

"She must be the meanest old woman there ever was," Osterhout says of Miss Gultch, played by Alyssa Wetterau, who has been mistreating the creature.

Wetterau also plays the Wicked Witch and torments Dorothy and her sidekicks throughout the show. Wetterau plays the witch masterfully, armed with a sinister, blood-curdling laugh.

Osterhout clutches Toto, her companion for the entire show, tightly in her arms.

Miss Gultch insists the dog is "the menace of the community," and that she was "shaken by the ferocious attack" of the blameless Toto.

Osterhout, a seasoned BKW actress, plays Dorothy Gale with precision — distraught and resentful toward her family and circumstances at the play’s opening.

She wishes to go "someplace where there isn’t any trouble."

Once displaced in the fantastical world of Oz, disillusioned Dorothy wishes to return to her humble beginnings. To prepare for her role, Osterhout said, she watched the Judy Garland film "a couple of times."

Landing in Oz, after a ferocious twister uproots her, Dorothy is puzzled by her new surroundings. She encounters a good witch — Glinda, played by Breanna Dees.

"Are you a good witch or a bad witch"" Dees asks. Dressed in a white gown, a crown atop her head, Dees carried a bundle of flowers during Monday’s rehearsal; she helped some of the younger Ozians, many played by middle-schoolers, with their cues.

Once Dorothy arrives at the magical world, the Ozians, all dressed in brightly-colored outfits, fill the stage, some with flowers sprouting from their hats. Some are dressed in leotards, others in dress clothes and top hats.

They are puzzled by Dorothy’s appearance and amazed when they discover that the house Dorothy arrived in has landed on a wicked witch. Each munchkin has his own voice, some deep and course, others a higher-pitched squeal.

They celebrate by skipping and dancing around the stage. But not so fast.

The munchkins, lollipop kids, and Ozians, however, need assurances that the bad witch under the house is "morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably dead."

Enter the coroner, played by a dutiful Elizabeth Harvey, who, after examining the body, gives the nod. The witch under Dorothy’s house, she confirms, is "really dead." Celebration continues.

Dorothy sets off down the yellow brick road to find the wizard, who, Glinda says, will help her get back to Kansas. The road to Oz, however, is filled with a host of unknowns — flying monkeys, singing trees and crows, a rusted tin man, and a confused lion. Not to mention the wizard, played by Bobbi Patrick, who reveals much to Dorothy and her friends by not giving them what they seek.


The Wizard of Oz is playing this weekend at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo secondary school on Helderberg Trail in Berne. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., and a Sunday matinee will be at 3:00 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the door. Prices are: $8 for adults, with a dollar discount for seniors and students, and $6 for children 12 and under. For more information, call 872-5155.

[Return to Home Page]