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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 8, 2005

Jewelry store robbed again

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — After being burglarized just three months ago, Northeastern Fine Jewelry was struck by theives again this week.

While the first burglar hasn’t been caught, Guilderland Police are now searching for two more suspects.

At 3:30 p.m. on Monday, police say, a white male entered the store, at 1575 Western Ave., and pretended to be a customer. He asked to see two diamond rings and, after a sales clerk handed him the rings, he ran out of the store, police say.

The rings were worth $45,000 total, police say.

No weapons were displayed and the employees of the store were not injured, police say.

The man got into a red Jeep Cherokee in the store’s parking lot and left with a getaway driver, police say. Later on Monday, the Jeep was found in the parking lot of Crossgates Mall.

Police searched the mall and surrounding area for the burglars, but were unsuccessful. The Jeep was found to have been reported stolen in another town, police say.

Tuesday, police reported that, on Monday evening, the man who stole the rings asked for directions at the Mobil gas station, at 1667 Western Ave., not far from the jewelry store. Security cameras at the gas station photographed him and a white sedan he rode in.

The man who stole the rings is described as: being in his mid-40’s; weighing about 190 pounds and standing five feet, ten inches tall; having dirty blonde hair and a pale complexion with discolored skin around his eyes; and being clean shaven.

At the time of the burglary, he wore a blue sweatshirt with a logo on it, a white T-shirt underneath, khaki pants, white socks, and sneakers, police say.

The driver of the Jeep is described as being about 45 years old with dark hair and a heavy build. He wore a hat on Monday, had a mustache, and wasn’t shaved.

A surveillance video from the store was shown on local television news stations. Police are asking that anyone with information call 356-1501.

One evening in late September, when Northeastern Fine Jewelry was closed, a burglar pried open an outer door to the store and smashed an inner door. He then stole jewelry from display cases.

Police showed video footage on television of a man walking by the store’s entrance earlier that evening and requested that he be turned in for questioning. Neither the man in the video nor the burglar were found.

Parked car leads to prostitute arrest

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — While officers have said the crime is rare in Guilderland, for the second time in three months, police have arrested someone for taking money for sex.

Nieves M. Fernandez, 49, was arrested on Nov. 24, for prostitution, a misdemeanor.

A sergeant saw a car parked in an empty lot, at Arcadia and Western avenues in McKownville, and thought the couple inside looked suspicious, said Guilderland Police Investigator Emanuel Shulman.

After questioning a man in the car, Shulman said, "It became evident what was going on."

Police determined that Fernandez offered oral sex to the man for $20, Shulman said. The man’s identity is being withheld by police and Fernandez could not be reached for comment.

"This isn’t her first indiscretion," Shulman said of Fernandez, although she has never been arrested in Guilderland before. She lives at 13 Sherman St., Albany, the arrest report says.

Asked why the man wasn’t arrested for soliciting prostitution, Shulman said he didn’t know.

"It’s possible he cooperated with the officer," he said.

In September, police arrested Nicole Knight, 25, for prostitution, but did not charge her client, Michael Iwanos, for soliciting. He, too, admitted to paying for sex.

Guilderland Police said then that Knight, who works for Wild Orchids, a Schenectady escort service, charged Iwanos $100 for oral sex, at the Best Western hotel in McKownville.

Guilderland Police were led to Best Western after a traffic stop. After midnight on Sept. 1, said Guilderland Lieutenant Carol Lawlor, officers pulled over a car and Knight was a passenger. Knight appeared to be impaired by drugs, Lawlor said, and she told police that she knew there were drugs in Room 236 of the hotel. Police investigated and found Iwanos in that room.

Police found a bag of white powder, believed to be cocaine, and other related items, under the mattress of the bed, the arrest report said. Iwanos was then charged with possession of cocaine.

A spokesperson of Wild Orchids told The Enterprise then that Knight was fired. She said that employees of the escort service sign contracts agreeing not to engage in illegal activity.

Fernandez’s occupation is listed on her arrest report as DSS, or Department of Social Services. Shulman said he’s not sure if she works for the department or if she receives benefits from it.

Fernandez was scheduled to appear in Guilderland Town Court on Dec. 1, but she did not show up. Another court date will be scheduled.

GCSD spends $10K for bus study

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The school board here has agreed to spend $9,850 for an efficiency study on busing students.

The contract with Transportation Advisory Services was recommended by Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders after comments were made during budget discussions that the district should look at privatization.

The study, which will take 90 days, is to be completed by March, before the proposal for next year’s district budget is reviewed, Sanders told the school board at its meeting last Tuesday.

Board member Colleen O’Connell described elementary-school buses at Pine Bush as "busting out" with kids, while the 4:05 p.m. buses are virtually empty.

Last spring, The Enterprise printed letters to the editor making similar assertions about half-filled buses.

Board member John Dornbush asked if the district put out requests for proposals; Sanders replied that he was familiar with TAS from his work at another school district and it is the only company he is aware of that does school transportation studies independently as opposed to being linked with marketing a service.

Sanders said he expects the study will qualify for state aid.

"Where is this $10,000 coming from"" asked board member Barbara Fraterrigo.

When Sanders said it would come from the transportation budget, Fraterrigo asked if the supervisor of that department, Christine Sagendorf, couldn’t conduct the study.

Sanders said she was open to the concept of hiring TAS.

"It’s finding out what you do well as well as areas you can improve," said Sanders.

Fraterrigo asserted that the district had spent funds before on studies, such as on gifted students, and nothing had come of it.

"I’m just torn," she said. "Ten thousand dollars is big bucks."

"You’re bringing in people who...can bring an objective eye," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala. Self-analysis, he said, can become self-fulfilling.

Ultimately, the board agreed to contract with TAS by a vote of 8 to 0.

A memorandum from Sanders to the board members says the company was formed in 1987; it’s main office is located in western New York and it has a secondary office in Florida.

TAS has provided a wide range of transportation studies for over 400 school districts and agencies in 16 states, said Sanders; local school districts that have used TAS include Bethlehem and Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk.

Sanders’s memo outlines 10 areas on which TAS will focus. It will conduct an in-depth analysis of the district’s current transportation operation and compare it to similar local operations, both contracted and district operated.

TAS will also conduct a financial analysis, including the cost of changes, comparing current costs to industry norms, and recommending ways to be more efficient.

TAS will explore privatization, including the impact of selling Guilderland’s bus fleet and the potential to lease the district’s new transportation facility.

Also, TAS will review the current routing process to ensure compliance with district policies and to check for efficiency.

TAS will review policy with an emphasis on improving the program’s effectiveness. Labor agreements and the labor structure will be analyzed along with a comparative review of benefit and wage data.

TAS will review fleet replacement and the spare-bus ratio in conjunction with bus maintenance.

Management options will be examined, including contracting some or all of the transportation operations.

And, finally, TAS will create a report card for the transportation program with recommendations for improvement where needed.

Raises for tech staff

The eight Guilderland staff members who work with technology and communications — a unit not affiliated with a union — will get raises of 3.85 percent each year for three years.

The school board last Tuesday unanimously ratified a three-year contract that runs from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2008.

Susan Tangorre, the district’s administrator for human resources, went over for The Enterprise details of the contract, which was not discussed publicly by the board.

Salaries for the group, headed by Joe Lorenzo, chief technology specialist, range from $34,398 to $47,640 the first year of the contract. The technology staff works 12 months a year.

The eight provide support for computer hardware and software for instructional staff at the district’s seven schools and for clerical staff at the schools and at the district’s central office, the transportation department, and the maintenance department, said Tangorre.

The Guilderland School District has over 1,200 computers, she said.

"It really is not as rich a ratio as other districts have nor as much as we would like sometimes," she said of the number of technical staff members compared to computers.

She stressed how hard the technology staff works, keeping up with developments in an ever-changing field.

One of the things the new contract has added, Tangorre said, is $20 per hour for training to maintain technical skills and certification.

"It’s critical for these folks to get the certification they need," said Tangorre. "It’s constantly changing."

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard a report on the health-insurance benefits offered by the district, as covered earlier by The Enterprise;

— Accepted the donation of a Minolta camera from Diane and Louie Martin, which will be used in the high school’s photography program;

— Approved a bid award of $38,140 from Marshall’s Garage for two mini-vans to transport special-needs students.

Ten vendors were solicited, three responded, and Marshall’s had the lowest bid that met specifications, Sanders reported. Funding was approved in May by voters as part of the $651,860 bus and equipment proposition;

— Adopted a policy on staff complaints and grievances;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that two Guilderland staff members have received National Board Certification as teachers — Susan Lafond, who teaches English as a second language at the high school, and Melissa Gergen, a library media specialist at the high school;

— Learned that the annual Guilderland Faculty Art Show will run through Jan. 3 at the Guilderland Public Library;

— Made plans for a January meeting with trustees from the Guilderland Public Library. Board members John Dornbush, Cathy Barber, and Colleen O'Connell volunteered to attend; and

— Met in executive session to discuss extending the superintendent’s contract and administrator performance reviews.

Westmere fifth-graders
Creating a world of winter wonder within a window

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Mary K. Weeks can remember the magic of store windows at Christmastime. This was before mega malls and big-box bargain stores made such artistry obsolete.

"I grew up with memories of going into the city and being transported, looking at the windows of the big department stores," she said.

Weeks even worked a brief stint as a window dresser.

Now she’s the art teacher at Westmere Elementary School and she has led the school’s fifth-graders in creating a window display for the Little Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza.

"I’ve done installation art," said Weeks. "I wanted to make this bigger than the pieces and keep it spontaneous."

The display, which celebrates Albany's First Night, is alive with vibrant color. White paper snowflakes, some gilded with sparkles, are mounted on the glass, framing the window.

Inside, books about winter are nestled in a blanket of snow: Mouse’s First Snow, Snow Day Dance, The First Day of Winter, Times Square, with a picture of a New Year’s Eve crowd, and A Really Good Snowman are among the illustrated selections.

Up from the snow burst colorful Mardi-Gras-style masks made of papier-maché. There’s a sweet brown horse, boldly outlined in gold; a velvet-back cat with hot-pink ears; a wild ostrich with orange feathers and red sparkles; and a whimsical goldfish that looks like it could fly.

Beyond the colorful masks are a backdrop of historical Albany buildings. To the side, is the modern skyline of Albany, complete with the descending obelisks of the Rockefeller Plaza; the Egg; and the venerable Alfred E. Smith Building — all styled in tones of white and silvery gray against an ice-blue star-studded sky.

High above, descending from the white ceiling, are cascades of colorful party streamers — as if time were suspended at midnight of New Year’s Eve.


Weeks was contacted about the project last spring by Albany’s Office of Special Events. Susan Cleary, who has a son and daughter attending Westmere, acted as the city’s liaison for the project.

Weeks opened the project to fifth-graders. All of them participated to some degree but a group of about 30 students, which she termed "highly motivated," met regularly on Mondays and Thursdays after school for eight weeks to complete the project.

First, the fifth-graders agreed on a theme — celebration.

Then they worked in groups on various parts of the display. They had to draw the landmark buildings freehand from small black-and-white drawings.

"We were on a tight schedule and didn’t have a projector. They had to enlarge them freehand," said Weeks. "I couldn’t believe they did it."

She helped the students with such techniques as making the custom-mixed grays for the plaza skyline backdrop. "But they did it themselves," she said.

The masks, representing carnivals popular for New Year’s celebrations in different cultures, were created from papier-maché by teams of two, said Weeks.

Asked about problems with kids creating art in pairs or by committee, when art is usually seen as an individual pursuit, Weeks said, "I was a little leery." But, she went on, it worked out well. If one student, for example, couldn't stay after school, her partner could do the next step.

"The kids had to communicate with each other and work out designs and solutions," she said.

In creating the buildings, which form the backdrop for the display, students worked in committees of up to six. "They understood it was for the good of the artwork, not the individual artist," she said. "They learned a lot about team work."

She went on about her students, "They had such a sense of commitment about the project. There was risk-taking in the process. They didn’t have a final view."

Because the display area is so small, only one student could help Weeks assemble the final product. Susan Cleary volunteered her fifth-grade son, Zachary, who was a tremendous help, Weeks said.

Many of the students and their families rushed out to see the display right away, she said. "They had only seen it in bits and pieces before."

Having their artwork displayed in a public place was thrilling for her students, Weeks said.

"I felt a real rush of energy coming from them," she said, "knowing it was being put in a venue for the community to see. There’s a great pride of ownership."

She went on, "It’s all they’ve been talking about. It’s been magical."

"Pride of ownership"

Weeks is familiar with that feeling herself. Not only does she teach art, she creates art.

Although she started her career as a Spanish teacher, Weeks said, "Art was always my passion and my love." She went back to school for a master's degree and has taught art at every level.

Her own artwork ranges from brightly-colored acrylic paintings to, most recently, solar-plate print-making, where etched plates are made by using the sun rather than chemicals.

Some of her work is currently displayed as part of a faculty show at the Guilderland Public Library and this Sunday, she’ll be selling her digital prints at the Albany Institute of History and Art.

"I’ve always considered myself a teaching artist," said Weeks. "Continuing to work on my own work keeps me fresh in the field."

She understands the pride her students take in their work.

"They have a great pride of ownership in what they created," Weeks said. "They want them back. The city wants the masks for another display. But I promised the kids they’d have them back and I’m good for my word."

Therapist buys building

By Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — After a stressful couple of months, physical therapist Brian Thornton is exultant this week. He bid for 10 minutes against another person at a foreclosure auction Tuesday, and then was able to purchase the Maple Avenue building that he’s rented for six years.

"I’m an owner," he told The Enterprise Tuesday afternoon. "My head is still reeling."

Thornton now plans on expanding his office, at 122 Maple Ave., and retiring in Altamont.

Last week, he told The Enterprise of his frustration with Capital Bank’s foreclosing on the building.

Thornton moved to the building and started his own practice in October of 1999. Capital Bank took over management of the building when Thornton’s landlord, Dwight Mathusa, filed for bankruptcy in 2003.

In 2004, Thornton signed a contract to purchase the property from Mathusa, doing business as Dwight Properties, and put a small downpayment on it, he said.

At the beginning of 2005, Thornton found out that, instead of allowing him to purchase the building, the bank was foreclosing on it. He doesn’t know why, he said.

A spokesperson from Capital Bank could not be reached for comment by The Enterprise last week.

Thornton told The Enterprise about the foreclosure sale last week because, he said, he wanted to set the record straight.

"It gives the impression that I’m not paying my bills," he said then of the foreclosure sign. "It’s affecting my business negatively."

At Tuesday’s auction at the Albany County Courthouse, Thornton said one other person bid for the building.

"We went at it for about 10 minutes," Thornton said. Thornton was nervous, he said, because he didn’t know the man’s price ceiling.

"We were getting pretty close to my walk-away point," he said.

Thornton declined to tell how much he paid for the building. But, he said, it was higher than he expected since several years of taxes were owed for the building.

"That was a little disappointing," Thornton said. "But, that’s the nature of the beast. I have more interest in the building than anybody else."

Thornton has already put some of his own money into the building, he said last week. He paid $7,000 to repair a leaking roof and other expenses for repairs that a landlord normally would make, he said.

His complaints about the condition of the building echoed those of Dr. Hedy Migden, who rented office space in the back of the building until last year.

Capital Bank tried to evict Migden for not paying rent in 2004; she told The Enterprise she was holding the rent payments in an escrow account until the repairs were made. The bank later dropped the eviction charges and Migden moved out.

Thornton hopes his purchase of the building will be official by the end of this year, he said Tuesday. In 2006, he will expand his office to the back of the building and possibly rent space to other doctors, he said.

He concluded, "I want to thank everyone who supported me and prayed for me. It’s a nice end to a long, drawn-out affair."

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