What goes up must come down. We should be ready.

We are returning once again to a favorite thought on journalism, from Walter Lippmann:

“The theory of a free press is that the truth will emerge from free reporting and free discussions, not that it will be presented perfectly and instantly in any one account.”

This time, the subject is the Central Warehouse in Albany. Our columnist Jesse Sommer wrote a rousing call to have the century-old warehouse that dominates part of the Albany skyline demolished. “Mr. Blum, tear down this eyesore!” was printed on Jan. 30 and posted on our website as well.

Sommer, who grew up in New Scotland and has been bothered by the warehouse since his boyhood, spent years as a citizen investigator looking into what it would take to tear it down. A captain in the United States Army now, he is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

His column ran on our opinion pages, which are clearly distinguished from our news pages. In covering news, we strive to be objective, to find as much of the truth as we are able from as many viewpoints as are relevant.

Columns and letters on our opinion pages are to be based in facts — we frequently tell letter writers they are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts — but are written from a particular viewpoint, often advocating, as Sommer’s column did, for a course of action commensurate with that viewpoint.

After the column was published, there were many comments on social media, which Sommer answered. There were also two letters, one sent directly to Sommer and the other also sent as a letter to the Enterprise editor, published last week.

Throughout these exchanges, we laud the civil discourse involved as varied viewpoints were shared. This is the way truth emerges and progress is made.

The emailed letter to Sommer was from Michael Cleary who was one of the partners in CW Montgomery through the acquisition of the Central Warehouse.

Cleary wrote, first of all, to correct some facts — the warehouse is 11 stories high not 12, and the square footage is 508,000 not 500,000 as we’d had it. Sommer let us know about these errors so we ran the correction in the next print edition and also corrected the figures in our online version.

Facts matter, and we correct errors at The Enterprise as soon as we learn of them.

Cleary went on to explain, from his point of view, what people don’t understand about the warehouse — that the building is structurally sound. People see the deteriorating exterior walls but don’t realize those concrete walls are not load-bearing, he wrote.

“The ultimate reason we ended up walking away from the project was the meltdown,” Cleary wrote of the 2008 economic downturn. “We had a multitude of various agencies in the city as well as the county that literally did backflips to promote the project to see if it could come to reality.” The meltdown meant the state did not give the promised $5 million grant to the warehouse project but rather a lesser amount to the south park project near Albany Medical Center, Cleary wrote.

The metal, asbestos, cork, and debris have all been removed from the warehouse, Cleary wrote, concluding, “ I guess the moral of the story is: Don’t beat the old lady down [until] you really understand all the facts.”

Sommer responded empathetically to Cleary, apologizing for the delay in his response as two men in his unit had been killed and six injured, writing, “I included snark and bombast in the piece to drive home a point, but I owe you my sincere apologies if you felt slighted. That wasn’t my intent. I also realize that the Central Warehouse project was at one time pretty important to you; having read your email, I feel a little sorry that — in your words — I “beat an old lady down without having all the facts.”

Sommer goes on to ask Cleary if he might have blueprints of the building he could share, which would help in demolition.

“I just can’t abide to see our city sporting such an awful depiction of decay so prominently. If we can’t find a developer to seriously do something with the building soon, it’s my position that municipal officials need to come up with a plan to remove it,” he writes.

So here we see two people with different viewpoints — one who worked on the warehouse project and still thinks it can and should be saved, and the other who believes that, without solid and transparent plans to save it, the warehouse needs to be removed.

In an era of easy name-calling and attacks that lead only to divisiveness and not solutions, it is good to see this exchange that ends with the suggestion of the two men getting together when Sommer returns home.

The other letter, published in last week’s Enterprise, “Rensselaer residents want no more debris disposed of in their city,” was written by Tom Ellis of Albany. Ellis wrote out of concern that, if the warehouse were to be demolished, the refuse would be sent to the closest landfill for construction-and-demolition debris, Dunn Waste Connections dump about a mile away in Rensselaer, “located literally right next to the Rensselaer public school campus attended by 1,000 students, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.”

“The dump frequently emits odors that are sickening residents, students, and workers,” Ellis wrote, concluding, “As for where to dispose of the Central Warehouse debris if and when the giant building is demolished, I do not have an answer, but I am certain that nearly everyone in Rensselaer wants no more construction and demolition debris disposed of in their city.”

Sommer’s responses to Ellis were, as with those to Cleary, empathetic rather than defensive. “Your concerns are valid,” Sommer wrote, “and they’re also exactly what needs to be shared with city officials as we assemble stakeholders to figure out the next steps vis-à-vis the Central Warehouse.”

Sommer wrote that he hadn’t thought through where the waste would go and continued, “And for what little this is worth, I genuinely take your anxieties to heart. I share them. Not only would the hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete overwhelm local landfill capacities, they would — as you point out — significantly disrupt a community. That’s the last thing I want, and I agree it’s a byproduct we can’t tolerate.”

Ellis responded to Sommer in kind — without defensiveness, without attack but rather with an open mind, sharing his expertise.

“I have more than 35 years of voluntary experience advocating for closing, cleaning up, and blocking the siting or expansion of dumps of different waste streams,” wrote Ellis.

“When you return to the region, I will be pleased to assist you in your efforts to carefully tear down the warehouse.

“I hope your letter stimulates a much-needed public discussion about the need to, when designing buildings, plan ahead to facilitate their eventual demolition, conversion, or dismantling; how to construct buildings so demolition, conversion, or deconstruction can occur with  minimum environmental, health, and financial impacts; and how to design buildings with a minimum of poisonous materials.”

This last exchange merits notice and celebration. 

We hope our local legislators as well as members of our local planning boards take heed. Consider the public discussion as starting here and now.

Certainly, some of our local boards have been forward-thinking in requiring builders of such projects as cell towers or industrial-scale solar farms to fund the removal of the towers or solar panels when their expected life is over.

But rarely is such thought given in the construction of buildings. It should be.

Too often, as a society, we’re concerned only with the immediate scene, the current profits rather than looking ahead for the long-term benefits, for the health and safety of future generations.

If we make sure current projects are built in such a way that they can be safely removed or converted, we’ll have given a gift to the future.

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