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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2005

Wells OK’d despite lawsuit and dirty water

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — With a legal challenge still pending, and neighbors still complaining their well water has been contaminated, the village of Altamont moved a step closer to securing a much-needed additional water source on Brandle Road.

Last Wednesday, by unanimous vote, the village was granted a special-use permit by Guilderland’s zoning board to develop a municipal groundwater source with two submersible well pumps, a 12-foot by 18-foot well house building, and an access road from Brandle Road.

This is despite the fact that Chairman Bryan Clenahan said earlier that the board wouldn’t approve the permit until the lawsuit is settled. The project received planning board approval last month and it now needs subdivision approval to proceed.

Last year, the village signed a contract with Michael and Nancy Trumpler to purchase about five acres of land where water had been found. The Trumplers say they were led to believe the water was to be used for village residents, which they support.

The Trumplers were upset then when the village ignored its moratorium on granting water outside the village in order to grant water to Jeff Thomas for a senior-housing complex, also on Brandle Road outside the village line, in the town of Guilderland. The Trumplers also had procedural concerns.

In March, they filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court, asking a judge to decide if the contract is legal and binding; they sought no money. (Wednesday, Judge Catherine Doyle’s law clerk said that the legality of the contract has still not been decided.)

The village subsequently filed counterclaims in March amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, saying it had to recoup its investment.

And Thomas sued the Trumplers, too, for $17 million, stating they had interfered with his project; Thomas’s lawyer said the suit would be dropped if the Trumplers dropped their legal action.

At the beginning of last Wednesday’s meeting, Clenahan read a letter from the Trumplers’ attorney, Michael Englert. It states that the property may require reconfiguration after the outcome of the lawsuit.

Clenahan asked Richard Straut, the village’s engineer from Barton & Loguidace, to respond to that.

"I don’t know if anything advanced with the lawsuit," Straut said. "I’ll leave that to the attorneys."

The board proceeded to review the application as if the lawsuit weren’t pending.

Engineer analysis

Jason Kappel, senior hydrogeologist with town-designated Spectra Engineering, told the board of his findings.

He first reviewed Barton & Loguidace’s report, comparing it to "industry standard practices."

"Everything seemed quite in order," Kappel said.

In July, neighbors on Brandle Road had complained to the zoning board that, since the village wells were drilled, their private well water was polluted. That area of Guidlerland has no public water.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Kappel said he and his staff did an independent analysis of the impact the proposed wells would have on other wells.

While the village plans on pumping about 275 gallons a minute from its wells, Spectra tested the wells for over 400 gallons a minute, Kappel said.

The village will be on a seven-hour pumping cycle, Straut said. The Brandle Road well will take seven hours to fill the village’s water tank, he said, and then have a rest period of about 20 hours.

When the tank gets low again, the village’s well on Gun Club Road will take about seven hours to fill the tank, Straut said.

If the Gun Club Road tank were to break, as it did in the spring, Straut said, the Brandle Road tank will work seven hours on, seven hours off.

Board member Charles Klaer asked how the Brandle and Gun Club wells will affect each other. Straut said they wouldn’t.

"Given the distance, I believe there will be no influence or no communication between the two wells," Kappel said.

With village wells running much more than the village intends, for 72 hours and 400 gallons a minute, Kappel said, the radius of influence — or distance the village wells will have an impact — is 600 feet.

The closest private well, owned by Daniel and Christine Capuano, who bought the property from their in-laws, the Trumplers, is 660 feet away, Kappel said.

Even if the Capuanos’ well were closer, Kappel said, the impact would be small because the further from the wells, the less the impact.

By impact, he said, he means the Capuanos’ water level would drop a few inches. When a person takes a shower, he said, wells usually drop several feet.

Clenahan then asked about water quality.

"We looked at the water-quality data provided and it’s quite good," Kappel said.

Klaer asked if this meant the Capuanos’ water problems weren’t from the village’s wells.

Kappel said it did. "It can’t affect outside the radius of influence," he said.

"What if Mr. Capuano says his water quality has changed and you say it couldn’t"" Klaer asked. "What would be his process for making a connection between his loss of quality and this well""

Many tests could be conducted and calculations could be made to see if the Capuanos’ problems occur the same time the Brandle Road well runs, Kappel said.

Perhaps the Capuanos need water softener at their well or need to have their filter replaced, Kappel said.

Public comments

"You say water quality is good, but it’s not always good," Daniel Capuano said. "...Perhaps the town should contact neighbors to test their water flow before this is approved."

Paula Simpson, who lives next to the Capuanos, said that, when the village did test drills, her water was gray and took months to clear up.

"Then we got all this sulfur," she said. "We complained and nothing’s been done for us."

Simpson went on, "You talk about the cone of influence, but I know when it’s happening. Within hours, our water was gray. No one bothered to check our well before, after, or during, even though they promised to."

By not checking neighboring wells, she said, the village did "an extremely shoddy job."

Ted Danz, whose Gardner Road land borders the Capuanos’ property, said that he was assured earlier that a town-designated engineer would do its own studies of this proposal.

"I didn’t realize the engineering firm was just going to look at the other engineering firm’s data," Danz said.

Neighboring wells should be monitored, he said.

"I saw the Trumplers’ well," he said, referring to what is now the Capuanos’ well, "and it was muddy. I heard the same from other people....If they’re going to push this well through, more testing has to be done."

Capuano and Simpson also raised concerns that the village’s tests were conducted two years ago, during a wet season. They asked how much difference the tests would have during a drought year.

Capuano asked what would happen if the Gun Club Road well breaks and much more development has occurred in Altamont, near Brandle Road. He asked if the Brandle Road well would be strong enough then.

No future problems"

After hearing from the public, Clenahan asked if the gray, sulfur water was tied to the first drilling.

"I wasn’t involved in the initial drilling," Kappel said.

"What do you think is going on with those properties"" asked Klaer.

"To be honest, I don’t know," Kappel said.

Clenahan asked if Kappel’s conclusion still is that there would be no problem with the future use of the village wells.

"Having been around thousands of wells in my career...it seems like a very high-productive well...," Kappel said.

"In your professional opinion, there shouldn’t be these types of problems"" Clenahan asked.

"Yes," said Kappel.

Clenahan then asked about Danz’s concerns that Kappel didn’t do independent testing.

"The whole second half of our report is taking raw data from the first report," Kappel said. "It seemed like high-quality data...We provided conclusions."

Clenahan then asked about concerns that the testing wasn’t conducted during a dry season.

"We run into that all the time," Kappel said. When there is a drought, the water table drops about 10 feet and everyone’s well is affected equally, he said. The radius of influence is the same, he said.

Board member James Sumner asked what would have caused the Capuanos’ water problems, if they had no problem before the village’s well was drilled.

"I don’t have a definitive answer, except, with the study, we can’t see an effect outside the radius of influence," Kappel said.

Straut later added that the village wells still need approval from the state’s departments of health and environmental conservation.

"To hear Mr. Kappel’s explanation and responses...the report was pretty thorough," Clenahan said.

"I think if I were Mr. Capuano or Mrs. Simpson or Mr. Danz, it didn’t appear to me that they were persuaded that what happened to them didn’t occur because of the drilling of this," Klaer said. "...I don’t know how to deal with that discrepancy."

"We don’t know what happened back then, all we can really do is look forward," Clenahan said. "He says whatever did happen won’t happen again. That’s what our objective professional opinion says."

"Mrs. Simpson said what happened then, two years later continued," Klaer said.

Clenahan said again that Kappel has found no data to prove this will happen again. Kappel then repeated some of his findings.

The board then approved the village’s special-use permit with the condition that the well has regular rest periods and runs approximately 275 gallons a minute for seven hours.

The approval also states that the village be subject to periodic testing and monitoring.

The vote was unanimous. "Based upon what we have in front of us, I’m in favor," Klaer said. "I just wish we were able to find answers to all the questions."

Thayer resigns as ZBA attorney

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — After serving as the town’s zoning board attorney for a year-and-a-half, Janet Thayer has stepped down.

She gave no reason in her resignation letter to Supervisor Kenneth Runion. She only thanked Runion for the opportunity to serve on the board and offered to assist her replacement.

"She just had scheduling conflicts from what I understand," Runion told The Enterprise this week of why Thayer resigned.

Thayer did not return calls from The Enterprise for comment.

Peter Barber, the town’s litigation attorney and former zoning-board chairman, has filled in for Thayer at the last two zoning-board meetings. Barber will continue to do so until the end of the year, Runion said; the town board traditionally makes appointments on Jan. 1.

Thayer works as an attorney at Barber’s law firm, Murphy, Burns, Barber, and Murphy. In her post as zoning attorney, she was to earn $12,875 this year.

The town board hasn’t discussed a replacement for Thayer, Runion said, and will appoint a new zoning board attorney in January, when it appoints board members.

Thayer first joined the zoning board in January of 2003; she was appointed then as a board member. Her term was to expire at the end of 2007.

"She’s an attorney with a lot of experience in zoning issues," Runion said then of Thayer. "She has all the training, background and experience."

In March of 2004, when Barber resigned as chairman of the zoning board, the town appointed then-zoning board attorney Bryan Clenahan as chairman. Thayer was then chosen to replace Clenahan.

Clenahan had been zoning board attorney for only a few months. In July of 2003, long-time board attorney Norah Murphy resigned, but would not return calls from The Enterprise. Runion and zoning board members told The Enterprise then that they didn’t know why Murphy quit.

For a few months before her resignation, Murphy rallied residents in opposition of Edward Becker’s planning board proposal to change the lot configuration of his Animal Hospital and for the use of the YMCA’s Camp Nassau.

Becker, a veterinarian who was a planning board member at the time, is one of Murphy’s neighbors. The application was approved by the planning board in June of 2003 and was to proceed to the zoning board. But, in an unprecedented move, the entire zoning board recused itself from the proposal. The town board then approved it.

Then-chairman Barber said at the time that the whole zoning board felt uncomfortable; Murphy was also an attorney with Barber’s law firm.

Shotgun threat at Sutters

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — A man was arrested last week for menacing after, police say, he screamed obscenities at the patrons of a local bar and then paced an adjoining parking lot with a loaded shotgun.

Robert A. Monaghan, 23, of 1204 Western Ave., apartment D, Guilderland, was arrested on Oct. 2, at Sutter’s Mill and Mining Co., which is next to his apartment.

He was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree menacing, and second-degree reckless endangerment, all misdemeanors.

No one was hurt, police say.

Guilderland Police say people sitting on the outside deck of Sutter’s complained to the bartender that Monaghan was screaming obscenities from the parking lot of his apartment next door, Guilderland Lieutenant Carol Lawlor told The Enterprise.

The female bartender went outside and asked Monaghan to stop, but he didn’t, Lawlor said. A few minutes later, the deck patrons reported to the bartender that Monaghan was pacing his parking lot with a 12-gauge shotgun, Lawlor said.

He carried the gun over his shoulder, military style, she said. On the arrest report, Monaghan’s occupation says "enlisted," but, Lawlor said, she doesn’t know if that means he is in the military. The arresting officers were not available for comment.

Monaghan was described as having a shaved head and tattoos, and as wearing a T-shirt with a logo from the rock band Judas Priest.

Monaghan didn’t make threats or point the gun at anyone, Lawlor said. Still, the arrest report says, the customers "were in fear of serious physical injury or death."

The arrest report says Monaghan was impaired by alcohol and Lawlor said he had an open container of beer on him.

The bartender called Albany Police, Lawlor said, since the property is on the border of Albany and Guilderland. Monaghan complied with police, was apprehended by Albany officers, and taken to the Guilderland station where charges were filed, Lawlor said.

Monaghan was also found to possess a butterfly knife in his right front pocket, the arrest report says.

He does not have a prior arrest record or a history of mental problems, Lawlor said.

Monaghan could not be reached for comment by The Enterprise. He is scheduled to appear in town court at a later date.

After $20 M project Farnsworth Middle School celebrates a new beginning

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A red ribbon stretched across the new entrance to Farnsworth Middle School last Thursday evening as two score gathered to celebrate the completion of the school’s $20 million expansion project.

Jennifer Holliday directed a quartet of middle-school saxophonists as they played "The Star-Spangled Banner" while the American flag waved overhead in the gathering twilight.

A warm fall breeze ruffled the sheet music. Holliday added her grip to the clothespins on the music stand as the quartet played the light and airy "Colonel Bogey March."

School-board members and school officials beamed from the front steps that served as a stage. The project had been four years in the making.

The school’s new principal, Mary Summermatter, thanked staff, from the custodians to her administrative team. Teachers and staff, she said, had "endured strange noises and smells...and endless punch lists." But, she said, they "have kept our students moving forward."

School board President Gene Danese called it a great day for a beginning. The board of education, he said, has spent a great deal of time discussing Guilderland’s culture.

He then proceeded to give his definition. "What does it hold dear"" he asked of Guilderland. Guilderland, Danese said, values its educational programs, and its educational facilities are one expression of those values.

He concluded that he was proud to be a member of such a culture.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala then recognized a long list of contributors to the middle-school project. Among those he introduced were: architects Marty Weber and Hannah Panek of Dodge Chamberlin Luzine Weber Associates; project manager Shows Leary; contractor Bast Hatfield; and Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

In order to help school start on time, Aidala said, Sanders "rolled up his sleeves...and pitched in to move furniture."

Aidala called the ceremony a "momentous occasion in the history of the school community" and reviewed the history of the renovation project. Voters approved the $19.75 million project in October of 2001 by a two-to-one margin to renovate and add to "the aging 30-year-old building," he said.

Stating the district was fortunate to have community support, Aidala said Farnsworth had been "a model of excellence for middle-level education throughout New York State."

He highlighted some of the project's improvements:

— Space was increased by about 20 percent or 44,500 square feet;

— Eighteen classrooms were added for a fourth school-within-a-school named Seneca House;

— A new front entrance improves security;

— Science laboratories and technology areas have been upgraded;

— A new music room has been built;

— A new gym and locker rooms have been added;

— Improvements have been made to the cafetorium, including upgrading its theatrical features; and

— More parking space has been added.

In short, the superintendent said, the school has been expanded and given a "much-needed facelift."

Aidala concluded by quoting Louis L’Amour, the author of American westerns: "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning."

The real challenge, Aidala said, is to teach a rigorous curriculum so students can achieve higher standards and become life-long learners. The school, he said, needs to support creative thinking and intellectual development while providing a safe and caring environment for students to learn in.

"As Louis L’Amour reminds us," said Aidala, "this is only the beginning; the rest is up to us."

Gabriella Formica, president of Farnsworth’s student council, spoke last.

Students appreciate the improvements, she said. Seneca House will "mix up school life and make it more interesting," she said. The new science labs help students learn more faster, said Formica.

"I also personally know that the rolling chairs have been a big hit with the kids," she quipped as light laughter rippled over the crowd.

With that, the red ribbon was ceremoniously cut on one side of the podium, and then again on the other side, after which the crowd filtered inside for refreshments and student-guided tours of the school.

Citizens’ views vary on budget — Should school add or subtract"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In its first step to develop next year’s district budget, the school board Tuesday heard from a dozen residents — two of them children — on a variety of issues.

"We’re all very much aware of the economic conditions," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala afterwards, listing rising costs of gasoline, heating fuel, and health care.

He noted that the board had heard requests for more programs as well as concerns about rising taxes, especially with Guilderland’s town-wide revaluation of property last year.

Last spring, the district’s $76 million budget passed with 54 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed, a decline in support from recent years.

The autumn public session was initiated in 1998 when board members said that priority setting should be linked to the budget process. At the board’s next meeting, on Oct. 25, its members will state their priorities for the upcoming budget.

The board members decided Tuesday to first send their views, via e-mail, to the superintendent.

One board member, John Dornbush worried, "I don’t want to see us conducting business by e-mail." He said he was concerned about keeping discussion "out in the open at a public meeting."

"We’re just organizing it," said board President Gene Danese.

With 30 citizens speaking at last year’s autumn session, the board changed the format this year so that, rather than sitting in a more informal circle with board members, residents, one by one, filed to the microphone to state their views in a televised session; each was given a three-minute time limit.

"This may be the year we have Draconian measures," said Aidala. But, he said, one thing remains unchanged — "the commitment to excellence."

Trim the budget, re-frame the debate

Michael Marr submitted a statement, saying he was a founding member of a new organization called FREE — Fiscal Responsibility and Excellence in Education.

Marr told The Enterprise Wednesday that his group is "very much in the incipient stage" and currently has "a couple dozen members."

Marr, who works as communications director for the State Budget Office, said he and his wife moved from New York City to Guilderland several years ago for two reasons — "the excellent schools and the affordable high quality of life."

"We don’t feel those things have to be mutually exclusive," Marr said.

Marr’s statement was read to the board Tuesday by Hy Dubowsky, another member of FREE, who told The Enterprise the group formed this fall.

Marr said he started "kicking around the idea" during the last school board election.

Dubowsky ran unsuccessfully for the school board in May; he had supported the budget.

The last time the district had organized groups lobbying for or against school budgets was over a decade ago. One grass-roots group formed to defeat the budget and elect candidates with similar views. When it was successful, a second group formed to support the budget and elect candidates that would do the same; that view eventually prevailed.

When The Enterprise asked Marr on Wednesday if FREE would be endorsing school-board candidates, he said, "We’re not focused on politics...We’d be delighted if the current school board enacted the type of policies we’re promoting."

"Members of FREE are proud of our schools and we hope that they are able to continue to provide an excellent education for our children," said Marr in his statement, which was read to the board Tuesday. "However, we believe this excellence is threatened by Guilderland’s ever-expanding school budget....

"FREE is particularly concerned about the older members of our community. Do we truly want to allow rising school taxes to drive these people from their homes"...

"FREE remains deeply concerned that the heavy taxes residents are forced to pay will make it impossible for families from across all income levels to live in our community and access the public education our children deserve."

Marr’s statement concluded, "We can and must maintain the excellence in education that has been a hallmark of our great community. But we also recognize the need for our leaders to make wiser choices with our tax dollars and to trim the excess from their budget."

When The Enterprise asked Dubowsky how FREE’s approach was different than that espoused by many school board members — provide an excellent education while being sensitive to the taxpayers’ burden — he said, "There’s a structural imbalance...a continuing pattern of expenses growing faster than revenues."

Dubowsky said a "zero-based budget" was needed.

"We need a multi-year plan to curtail growth and hold the rate of property-tax increase," he said, "while actively seeking alternative sources of revenue."

Dubowsky, too, addressed the school board Tuesday, identifying himself as a parent of three children — two currently in the high school and one who has graduated and is "spending time on Wall Street."

Dubowsky spoke about the plan he said he helped develop to put New York City "back on its feet" financially. He detailed a decade of rebuilding that relied on "surgical cuts" and incremental budgeting.

The citizens’ committee that reviews Guilderland’s budget and advises the school board cannot solve structural flaws, said Dubowsky. "We must re-frame the budget debate," he said, to deal with structural deficit.

Brian Hartson, a member of the advisory committee, told the board this would be a challenging year. He cited a report by the state’s comptroller, Alan Hevesi, stating school taxes make up 60 percent of the property-tax bill state-wide.

The bulk of new debt, Hartson said, citing the report, can be attributed to school districts.

He urged the board to prioritize scrupulously, stating there is more than enough room to cut costs. While holding the line is probably a pipe dream, Hartson said of the budget increase, "At least keep it within the rate of inflation."

David Langenbach, formerly a Guilderland bus driver who has twice run unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board, served this year on the advisory committee. "Gas is three dollars-plus a gallon," he said, urging the board to develop a plan to compensate for increased fuel costs.

Tim Burke, who served this year on the advisory committee and has frequently spoken to the board about his concerns, said, "I just don’t hear enough about program evaluation and what works and what doesn’t work."

Burke said that testing is not considered a reliable source by many on the board and in the teaching community; he asked, then, "How are we going to track success""

Burke said the district’s priority should be trying to do what it already does much better rather than trying to do more.

Requests for more

David Heller, a parent who has served on the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee for three years, said the "process has been very enlightening." He said he would like to see more money put into special education.

Terri Standish-Kuon, an Altamont parent, urged a "targeted investment" in a program that would teach Spanish to elementary-school students. The board had considered such a program last year but, to cut costs, decided against it for the 2005-06 budget.

Standish-Kuon said the cost for students in kindergarten through fifth grade would be $160,000, which she termed a "modest investment" of $68 per student.

She pointed out that 417 billion people speak Spanish, making it second to English as the most common language on the planet.

Maureen Iuorno, president of the Pine Bush Elementary School PTA, thanked the board for trying to keep class sizes small, which she said helps create a better learning environment.

She, too, said, "We are getting requests for foreign language."

Christine Duffy asked for the board’s help with the modified field-hockey program.

"We're starting to win games," she said. But, she said, schools that have middle-school, or modified, programs have an advantage.

Girls in middle school have limited choices with sports, she said, noting an open house on Tuesday was "very well attended."

She urged the board to look at a sport that would include as many girls as possible. "We don’t cut," she said.

Nancy Bouteiller, speaking on behalf of Guilderland Music Parents, thanked the board for the budget line item that pays to replace worn musical instruments. She spoke of the excellence of the Guilderland music program and brought along two Farnsworth Middle School students to vividly state the need for new instruments.

Seventh-grader Paul Travers, who plays the trumpet, said instruments were "falling apart and really not that great." He described the cymbals on a drum set falling apart in the midst of playing.

He also said the "brand-new music room" in the renovated middle school had "brand-new posture-perfect chairs" and urged purchase of similar chairs for band practice.

His sister, sixth-grader Hallisey Travers who plays the saxophone, said the school has only one tuba and one baritone saxophone, but more players, so more instruments are needed. She also said that the music stands "sort of spin around sometimes."

New pasture for Pastor Pattison and his flock

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — The new pastor of Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church says he is finding a warm welcome in this growing town of friendly neighborhoods.

"Hamilton Union was looking for someone with a fair amount of experience, which I have, and someone who wants to stay put in the community," said Stewart Pattison. He became pastor at the Western Avenue church in August.

He interviewed for the job, he said, and then preached at a neutral church earlier this year.

"I left feeling that, ‘Gee, I would really love to come here,’" Pattison said.

Pattison said that Guilderland and its hamlets have a "real sense of neighborhood. I’ve felt very welcomed," he said. Already, Pattison has been invited to be the protestant chaplain of the Guilderland Fire Department, which is next to the Hamilton Union church.

"We felt very welcomed and very at home here in a short time," he said.

Pattison’s wife, Mary Jo, known as MJ to many, was a co-pastor with Stewart at their former church in Rochester. She now works full-time for the University at Albany.

The Pattisons spent 20 years at the New Life Presbyterian Church in Rochester, where their children grew up. Their son, Benjamin, is now a senior at the University of Toronto, and their daughter, Elizabeth, is a freshman at Simmons College in Boston.

"Twenty years is a long time to do anything"especially in the ministry," Pattison said. His church in Rochester, he said, "was a small, urban, challenging, wonderful congregation."

He and his wife decided to move when their children finished high school, he said. He interviewed elsewhere, but soon decided to come to Guilderland, he said.

"It was clear that this was the right match," he said. After he first met the search committee, he said, he felt as though he had known the members for a long time.

"I look at myself as a partner with the congregation. I feel very strongly that this isn’t my church," he said. "I feel very accepted for who I am."

Pattison said that it is important for a minister to feel accepted. "I am a human being who is a minister. This is just the job God has given to me," he said.

Hamilton Union has "a very active congregation involved in the community in a lot of ways," Pattison said. "The work is done by the members of the church. My job is a help them with resources, and help them in their spiritual lives, but not necessarily to tell them what they should be doing."

He went on, "I’m in the ministry for people. What I bring is a passion for people to get connected to the love of God and Jesus Christ. We’re all being called to do"something."

He said that he has a "desire for people to see their faith working for them. The real value of our faith is the difference it makes in our daily lives."

On Sunday, Oct. 23, Pattison will present "The Bible in 30 Minutes," he said. The program is designed to "get people curious about the Bible," he said. He will do two messages, focusing on the Old and New Testaments.

Pattison also wants to introduce people to a spiritual reading of scripture, he said. He holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School.

"I’m a firm believer that a new pastor should listen the first couple of years," he said. "Right now, I’m here to learn about what they’re doing, and not to change unless the congregation wants something changed."

The church hosts the Hamilton Union Nursery School, the Guilderland Interfaith Food Pantry, and it supports local programs like the Inner City Homeless Shelter, Pattison said. The church has an active bell choir, a vocal choir, and a strong Sunday school program, he said. He said that Hamilton Union is joining other churches in welcoming people displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"It’s a very open-hearted group of people," Pattison said.

Haunted house to raise hackles and funds for hurricane relief

By Bill Sherman

ALTAMONT — Mortimore Blackstone’s Haunted Mansion is coming to the Altamont fairgrounds with a promise that, "We can make you wet your pants!"

Peggy Were, co-coordinator of the event, made the promise when describing the haunted house she and her sister have planned this Halloween season.

Were and Elaine Person organized the haunted house in an effort to raise money for disaster relief for the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Person, who also serves as executive director of Clowns on Rounds, said she was asked to start a Capital Region chapter of Red Nose Relief.

Red Nose Relief was established by several clowns who work on the staff of CNN. According to the organization’s website, www.rednoserelief.org, as the disaster from Katrina became more apparent, the "clown community" wanted to help in some way. The result was Red Nose Relief, a "grass-roots effort by the members of the clown community around North America."

Person said each year Clowns on Rounds hosts a haunted house at the Capital District Apple Festival to raise money for their volunteer efforts in local hospitals and nursing homes. The haunted house at the festival is their "monsters be nice" version so children of all ages can participate.

Person and Were decided to charge it up a bit on the scare meter for the current fund-raiser. However, Were pointed out that she will tell her monsters to be nice if youngsters want to join in the fun.

For those with a weak heart, Were said her monsters will gladly provide guided tours with their masks off. In either case, the haunt will be a "non-bloody, non-gory haunted house," Were said.

Without giving away their techniques, Were said it is the element of surprise they focus on when scaring people. "Don’t worry, it will be very scary," Were said.

In addition to the haunted house, there will be clowns performing magic tricks and providing face-painting; there will also be pumpkin-painting and bouncy-bounce rides. No clowns will be in the haunted house in costume; only monsters are allowed, Person said.

Admission into the haunted mansion is $7 for adults and $5 for children eight and under. Person also said discount coupons are available at local businesses or at www.clownsonrounds.com. Person said the goal is to raise $25,000 for the victims of the hurricanes.

Both Person and Were said they want to fill in the gaps where the major organizations such as the Red Cross can’t reach. "Our intention is that we know where the money goes and to see what it brings directly," Person said.

The haunted mansion will be open October 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30. The hours are: Friday from 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday from noon to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

Person said they are happy with the community’s response. Many organizations, including the Altamont Fair Board, Guilderland High School, and Verizon have provided volunteers and other in-kind services to cut down on the operating costs.

They are still looking for volunteers to help in a variety of areas. Their most pressing need is a DJ for the weekends. People interested in helping can call Were at 768-2895 or e-mail her at aboutface@nycap.rr.com.

Person said Red Nose Relief will also provide support to victims of other natural disasters around the world. In addition to raising money for recovery efforts, the organization also provides guidelines and training to the clowning "volunteers who work with other humanitarian organizations while administering a unique form of comic relief." Currently Red Nose Relief is working with the American Red Cross.

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