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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 25, 2005

Lawsuit leads to barring playground fun

By Matt Cook

BERNE — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District is not monkeying around with the possibility of another lawsuit.

Monday, at its monthly meeting, the school board voted unanimously to remove monkey bars from the district’s playgrounds at the Berne and Westerlo elementary schools.

The vote came after a recommendation from the district’s health and safety committee.

Business Administrator Gregory Diefenbach, who is on the committee, told the board the committee voted 18 to 5 to recommend the removal. The district is facing two lawsuits because children who have broken their arms falling from the equipment, Diefenbach said. One lawsuit, he said, "could be potentially in the six figures."

Superintendent Steven Schrade told The Enterprise the lawsuits are still in litigation and are based on accidents that happened in the past year.

Diefenbach explained the reason for the five votes against the recommendation.

"The last thing we want to do is have kids and ourselves live in a bubble," he said. "I’ve fallen off my share of things. That’s the way it is when you’re a kid."

However, he said, the committee felt the possibility of more lawsuits was too great.

A set of free-standing monkey bars will be removed from each playground. The ubiquitous playground apparatus consists of two parallel bars with cross-bars, like the rungs of a ladder, suspended from poles that are taller than most children.

Monkey bars attached to other equipment will remain.

The board speculated that the length of the free-standing sets may be why they are responsible for more falls than the other, shorter ones.

Diefenbach said he doesn’t think he could make it from one side to another of the free-standing bars, even though, he pointed out, "I work out."

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 45 percent of injuries on public playgrounds occur at schools. Fifty-three percent of injuries at public playgrounds happen on climbing equipment and 60 percent of those are from horizontal ladders like the monkey bars, the commission says. Most injuries are due to falling, the commission says.

For now, while the monkey bars are going, the rest of the BKW playground equipment will stay.

"We’ll wait until the next lawsuit," Schrade joked.


The board reviewed its goals for the 2005-06 school year, which are:

—To pass the budget on the first vote in May;

—To understand and comply with the state comptroller’s five-point plan for safeguarding school finance;

—To increase community awareness and knowledge about the budget process;

—To investigate the need for a course and/or extra help for students in test-taking strategies and skills;

—To expand the district’s mentoring program;

—To bring resolution to issues about valedictorian and salutatorian and weighted grades; and

—To develop a five-year facilities-use plan, including special-education requirements, the Westerlo building, and the feasibility of moving the sixth grade to the elementary school.

Other business

In other business at the Aug. 22 meeting, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board:

—Discussed summer training camps for sports teams. Board member Edward Ackroyd asked if the training is required to be on a school sports team and who pays for it. He said some parents have told him their children feel pressured to attend even if they can’t afford it.

"Some are insinuated so hard, they’re almost mandatory and those concern me," Ackroyd said.

Schrade said he would have a report assembled on summer training camps by the Oct. 3 school board meeting; and

—Held a vote on not adding $47,673 to this year’s tax levy to make up for an assessing mistake made last year by the town of Knox. The vote was a 2-to-2 tie. Board president Janet Finke was absent.

Board member Karen Storm voted against the motion with Joan Adriance.

"The only thing I caution the board against, is if the mistake is made again, we’re setting a precedent," Storm said.

"$50,000 was the difference between approving and disapproving the budget," said Ackroyd, who voted for the motion with Maureen Sikule.

The district scheduled an emergency meeting to vote on the issue with all members present for Thursday at 7:15 a.m.

Towering debate: view vs. broadcast

By Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE — While supporters of a proposed radio tower say its location is necessary, some residents hope a Hilltown businessman will move it somewhere else.

Tom Diederich, of Westerlo’s River Valley Radio, has applied to the Rensselaerville Planning Board for a special-use permit to build a 150- to 180-foot radio tower on Ted E. Bear Hill, off of Route 353, on property leased from Charles Rappazzo.

Among other things, Diederich and his lawyer, Andrew Brick, claim the tower will improve communications for firefighters and police in the southwest corner of Albany County, and will have space for cellular companies or other broadcasters to move in.

Local residents opposed to the tower say it will ruin a scenic view, irrevocably changing the town’s landscape.

The town continued a public hearing on the subject at a planning board meeting last Thursday. On Wednesday, the day before, an 180-foot crane was placed where the tower would go, so residents could get an idea of what it could look like.

"When I saw the crane, it broke my heart," said resident Jeanette Rice. "That’s one of the most outstanding vistas in Albany County."

Most members of the standing-room-only crowd in the town hall last Thursday echoed Rice’s comments, while acknowledging the need for improved radio coverage for emergency workers. They asked why one of the town’s existing radio towers couldn’t be used.

Speaking in support of the tower, volunteer fireman Ed Pizzagati said the lives the tower could save are more important than the view.

"You’re worried about material things. How about being worried about saving someone’s life"" Pizzagati asked, over loud retorts from the audience. "If it saves a life, it’s worth it. I’d sleep under it if I could...I guarantee you, a year from now, you won’t even notice it’s there."

The county’s plan

Captain Mark Stevens heads up the Albany County Communications Center in Voorheesville for the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. In addition to handling communication for the sheriff’s department, Stevens told The Enterprise, the communications center dispatches all the volunteer fire companies and emergency medical services in the Hilltowns.

The sheriff’s department has received a grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security to upgrade its communications system, Stevens said. Some of that money, he said, will go towards creating better coverage in the Hilltowns.

Currently, Stevens said, to cover the whole area, the communications center has to broadcast an emergency call for the Hilltowns off of two towers, one at a time. One is on Mount Pinnacle in New Scotland, and the other one, owned by River Valley Radio, is on Pond Hill in Rensselaerville. Emergency workers can only listen to one channel at a time, Stevens said, so they are forced to choose.

"What we’re going to do is we’re going to improve our communications so we have a simulcast system," Stevens said.

The proposed Bear Hill tower would give the county the height and location it needs to do just that, Stevens said.

"It’s in the perfect spot," he said.

Microwave equipment on the tower would also link the Hilltown communications systems to ones in other parts of the county, "So people in the county can talk to each other," Stevens said.

At last Thursday’s hearing, one resident wondered if there are any health risks from living near a radio tower that sends out microwaves. Diederich told The Enterprise there aren’t.

"The federal government has reviewed these issues before and came back with a negative declaration," he said.


Although the original application was for an 180-foot tower, Brick told the planning board that his client has done some re-engineering and could lower it to 150 feet if necessary. Diederich explained to The Enterprise that some of the equipment planned for the tower could share an antenna.

The tower on Pond Hill is only 100 feet high, Diederich said. It isn’t strong enough to be built any higher to accommodate the county’s needs.

As far as building a new tower on Pond Hill, Diederich said, he doesn’t think he can get a long-term lease from the owner of the property. It will take a long time for him to make back his investment, Diederich explained, estimating 10 to 20 years.

Another company, American Tower, owns a tower in Rensselaerville on Kenyon Road. At the hearing, Brick and Diederich said that tower doesn’t meet the county’s needs for a number of reasons. It doesn’t provide enough coverage and the owners aren’t easily accessible, they said.

Still, several residents at the hearing continued to suggest the county locate its equipment on the American Tower. Diederich told The Enterprise he doesn’t think these people understand the situation.

"It wasn’t going to do what [the county] needed," he said. "If you want to buy a pickup and someone wants to sell you a car, how long are you going to listen to them""

Cell futures"

Rensselaerville zoning law requires that any new towers built have at least two spots available for cellular-telephone companies to place transmitters. This is meant to cut back on the number of towers that may go up in the town in the future.

At the hearing, Dudley Reed, of Rensselaerville, speculated that Diederich’s motives were more to make money off of cellular companies than to improve emergency communication.

Diederich admitted to The Enterprise that he hopes cell companies use the tower, but he isn’t banking on it.

"I still don’t see the cell companies in Westerlo. If it’s not in Westerlo, it’s not coming to Rensselaerville," he said. Cell companies only go where they think there is a large enough population that wants their services. "My favorite saying is, ‘Cows don’t use cell phones,’" Diederich said.

River Valley Radio is a small company that mostly sells and installs two-way radios in the Hilltowns and Greene County, Diederich said. The Pond Hill Tower is the only tower the company owns.

Diederich said his goal with the Bear Hill Tower is to rent space on it to the county and some business clients, making a profit only after a decade or two.

"I’m not going to get rich off of this," he said.

A view ruined"

Different people had different reactions to last Wednesday’s crane test.

"I looked down at that crane yesterday and it was like, ‘Wow!’" said resident Barry Kuhar, also a firefighter. "I’ve been looking at great views forever."

Joe Fritz lives next to the Rappazzo property where the tower would go.

"What’s going to happened to my property value"" Fritz asked. "Is it going to devaluate" It’s not going to go up...I worked too hard in my younger life—and I built my house myself—to have it depreciate."

Brick, the lawyer, said he drove around while the crane was up, checking the visibility. It’s most visible on Routes 353 and 359, he said.

"We’re not going to be able to get around that," Brick said.

On Routes 361 and 360, Brick said, "You’d have to be looking for it."

Of the 200 miles of road in Rensselaerville, Brick said, the crane was only visible from about six.

"We think that was a very positive result," he said. As for the neighbors, he said, "We can’t hide the fact that the adjacent property owners are going to see this."

Reacting to the comments about the visual impact of the tower, Diederich told The Enterprise, "I guess the old saying goes, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ It doesn’t bother me.’" He compared radio towers to telephone poles, which he said, people hardly notice anymore.

The planning board requested further information from Diederich, so the public hearing will continue on Sept. 15.

Captain Stevens would not specify what the county would do if Rensselaerville turns down Diederich’s application, but, he said, "We’re exploring all our options."

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