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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 26, 2006


By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A hit-and-run accident outside of the Westmere Fire Department on Monday left four firefighters with damaged vehicles. All of the cars hit were in parking spaces alongside the front of the firehouse on Western Avenue, and all belonged to volunteers working there. No one was injured.

Guilderland Police are looking for a blue Jeep Grand Cherokee Larado, the vehicle they say is responsible for the accident. No description of the driver was given to police when the incident was reported by firefighters working at the firehouse. The damage occurred at 8:22 p.m., on Jan. 23.

"There is heavy front-end and side damage to [the blue Larado], and by the evidence left at the scene, we were able to determine the color and type of vehicle," said Lt. Curtis Cox, of the Guilderland Police Department.

Not much else is known about who was driving or why the accident occurred, because there were no eye witnesses to the actual event.

Out of the four cars hit, two were damaged in the front and the other two were damaged in the rear of the vehicles.

Cox is asking Enterprise readers to "give us a call if they saw anything or know about anything that happened Monday night."

The Guilderland Police can be reached at 356-1501.

Auto auctions at park

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A company wants to store up to 1,850 wrecked vehicles in the Northeastern Industrial Park. The proposed location, the same site used by a controversial mulching facility in 2003, is near the Black Creek which feeds Guilderland’s main water source.

The company, Insurance Auto Auctions, made a presentation about its proposal at last Wednesday’s zoning board meeting. Representatives showed a film clip that included footage of shrink wrapping wrecked vehicles.

Some worry that wrecked vehicles may release contaminants into the Watervliet Reservoir.

Insurance Auto Auctions is an auction company that holds wrecked vehicles, purchases and transfers their titles from insurance companies, then sells them to the highest bidder. The company does not sell to the public, only to other businesses and car dealers. Not all of the cars it deals with are necessarily wrecked; some are held as evidence by certain agencies, and others are stolen cars recovered after an insurance pay out, said Michael Madden, vice president of Insurance Auto Auctions.

Both of these types of vehicles are driven on and off the auction sites, and are generally in good shape, said Madden.

What is a junkyard"

I.A.A., a nationwide corporation, wants to store and sell "total-loss" vehicles out of Guilderland Center, but the zoning board has to first make a decision on the language and interpretation of the zoning laws. The industrial park is zoned as an industrial area, where junkyards are not allowed.

And the area is already dealing with environmental mishaps, since it was the site of a previous Army depot.

A total-loss vehicle is traditionally defined by insurance companies as any vehicle in which repairs cost more than the vehicle’s total value.

The big question last Wednesday between zoning board members and I.A.A. executives was the exact definition of a junkyard.

"What we do is far from anything done in a junkyard....We do not cannibalize vehicles. We do not part them out. We do not sell parts," said Madden.

He went on to explain that his company is not a "pick and pull" operation, like most traditional junkyards. Much to the contrary, he says, I.A.A sells whole cars to "parts guys, vehicle rebuilders, mechanics, and junkyards."

Some of the board members did not agree with this depiction.

"Acres of wrecked cars look like a junkyard, no matter what," said alternate board member Thomas Remmert, who did not appear swayed by the presentation.

The zoning board’s chairman, Peter Barber, asked what the company was if it was not a junkyard.

"[I.A.A] is far from anything done in a junkyard," said John Stockley, from the firm Stockley Greene, representing I.A.A.

Stockley described I.A.A. as a very different kind of business and a great alternative to traditional junkyards. Instead of crushing cars or sending them to junkyards to be slowly stripped down and rot away, I.A.A takes whole vehicles and sells them to buyers, he said. This helps alleviate the buildup of wrecked cars in actual junkyards, and no parts selling, or salvaging, will take place in Guilderland, said Stockley.

"We make money by selling the car as a whole...and that basically is our business model," said Madden.

The zoning law states, "A junkyard is a lot, land or structure, or part thereof, used for...the collecting, dismantling, storage, processing or salvaging of machinery or vehicles not in running condition or for the sale of parts thereof, operated as a business on site where an employee is in attendance."

Stockley described the wording of the current zoning laws that define a junkyard as, "language meant for past practices," and could currently be applied to dozens of other businesses in town, he said.

Barber asked how long vehicles typically stay in storage before they are sold and taken away. Madden said he could not give a concrete answer because of all the variable involved, including state agency regulations, but he said, around 60 days on average.

"We sell the car as soon as we get the title. That’s how we make money," Madden said.

The longer state agencies take to transfer titles, coupled with various other state regulations, the longer the vehicle stays in storage, said Madden.

Environmental breakdown

Guilderland residents are worried that the auction company is nothing more than a glorified junkyard, and they say if I.A.A. is permitted to do business in the industrial park, leaking vehicle fluid could pose an environmental hazard.

"Anything that’s going to have wrecked autos is a bad idea for the area...They need something more environmentally sound," said Charles Rielly, co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board, a group formed by the Army Corps of Engineers to advise it on cleanup of the former depot site.

Rielly, who previously spoke out against a mulching operation at the same site, told The Enterprise this week that idea of permitting thousands of wrecked cars in the industrial park next to the Black Creek, is crazy.

When Barber asked about wrecked vehicles leaking potentially dangerous fluids, Madden quickly reassured the board that all leaks will be stopped, and fluids will be contained, and disposed of properly once the cars arrive on site.

Explaining to the board that most vehicles do not leak when they arrive, Madden said, if a car is going to leak after a bad accident, then it would leak at the crash site, it would leak while stored at a garage, and it would leak while being towed to the site, which could take days or even weeks. If the vehicle still leaked upon arrival, it would be handled properly, Madden said, adding that his company has never violated environmental laws or regulations.

"They say they drain everything out, but they can’t get everything out of those cars," said Rielly.

When asked about possible runoff getting into the Black Creek from the proposed location in the industrial park, Rielly told The Enterprise, "It all drains down there."

Steven Porter from the Northeastern Industrial Park, spoke on behalf of I.A.A. during the meeting, saying Auto Placement, which dealt with cars and car parts, was next to the proposed site for years and the board never had a problem with it.

"We have a company committed to us with state-of-the-art equipment," said Porter, on the practices used by I.A.A. to ensure environmental safety.

Porter claims vehicles have been on the industrial park’s property for years, and that historically, the town has never made it an issue before. He described the auto auction more like recycling, rather then using the label "junkyard."

The board inquired about vehicles that did not get sold during the auctions, and what was to become of them. Madden responded by saying, badly burned or unwanted vehicles were to be crushed for scrap metal, "and probably, quite frankly, shipped off to China."

The next zoning board meeting is Feb. 1, and the interpretation of a junkyard will be specifically discussed and decided upon. If I.A.A.’s operation is defined as a junkyard, it may still apply for a special-use permit but the company would have to meet several more regulations and requirements for it to get the permit.

"I don’t think it will look very nice, a pile of 1,800 wrecked cars in the industrial park, especially since they are trying to bring in high-tech companies," said Rielly.

Town board — Civil Service

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Town appointments from Albany County’s Civil Service list, and concern over the effects of stricter county regulations, were the main focus of last Tuesday’s town board meeting.

Board member Patricia Slavick, citing an article on the Civil Service crackdown that ran in The Enterprise two weeks ago, asked Supervisor Kenneth Runion how many people would be affected by the new regulations.

Runion responded by saying the county was reclassifying many positions and at least one-half to one dozen more people would be "affected" in Guilderland’s town hall. Three workers took the water operator exams in Guilderland and were awaiting the results, Runion added.

"The reclassifications of Civil Service are creating non-exempt positions where they were previously exempt," said Runion.

Currently, one employee at the town assessor’s office, two employees at the Guilderland Public Library, and one employee at the Voorheesville Public Library, have all been fired because of failed Civil Service exams.

Timothy Spawn’s job as the town Superintendent of the transfer station was reclassified by the county, and he is now required to take a Civil Service exam. Previously, his job did not require an examination.

Spawn, the only candidate to take the exam for his position, passed and was unanimously appointed to his position by the town board.

Other appointments included Jennifer Celebucki and Shirley Valletta as deputy court clerks from the Albany County Civil Service list. Celebucki placed number two on the list and Valletta placed number four, after taking their exams. Because Guilderland is mandated by New York State to choose from the top three candidates on the list, the board unanimously appointed Celebucki first, pushing Valletta into the number-three position. The board then unanimously appointed Valletta.

These two positions were also recently reclassified, requiring an exam.

The board also unanimously appointed Dorothy Lynch as deputy town clerk.

The meeting ended with a notice from the Association of Towns, which is having its annual convention, Feb. 19 to 22, at the Hilton, in New York City.

Jean Cataldo, the receiver of taxes and top-vote-getter throughout Guilderland in the last election, was chosen to be Guilderland’s delegate to the annual business meeting, at the last day of the convention. Dave Bosworth, a town board member and the chair of Guilderland’s Democratic party, was chosen to be the alternate delegate.

Slavick, who has been the appointed delegate to the annual statewide meeting in past years, is unable to attend this year.

Both delegates were appointed unanimously.

Zoning — pub denied

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The Across the Street Pub at 240 Western Avenue won’t be adding a deck.

In a rare split vote, four to three, the zoning board last Wednesday denied the pub’s request for a special-use permit. This decision comes after multiple public hearings on the matter.

The three votes for the proposed deck came from board members Susan Marci, Patricia Aikens, and Michael Marcantonio, who were hesitant with their final decisions, as were all seven board members.

The pub’s owner, Michael Ardunini, asked the zoning board for a permit to build a deck with 20 seats and a parking variance of over 50 percent. The four board members who voted against the permit cited parking as the main problem with Ardunini’s proposal.

The decision comes as a victory to many of the residents living on nearby Arcadia Drive, many of whom went to several zoning board meetings to express their concerns. Residents said that patrons at the neighborhood bar take up residential parking spots on Arcadia Drive. Many of the residents do not have driveways to park in, and sometimes they have to park several blocks away from their homes, they said.

Adding more seats to the bar without the proper number of parking spaces would only make the problem worse, residents told zoning board members.

However, Ardunini appealed to the board members, too, saying he was a small business owner just trying to compete with the large corporate bars and restaurants. There are several other restaurants in the area with outside decks.

"Michael Ardunini is a responsible business person," said chairman Peter Barber. Ardunini has also told the board he would understand if it denied the permit and that he will continue to do business on Western Avenue regardless of the outcome.

Before casting his vote, Barber said that nothing could be done to mitigate the impact the expansion would have on residents living in the area. The lack of adequate parking was the most important issue, Barber said, and it was the central reason behind denying the special use permit.

Barber did commend and thank Ardunini for his complete cooperation and consideration with the zoning board during the application process, and he said he sympathized with Ardunini as a struggling businessman.

The sentiment was much the same across the board.

Zoning board member Charles Klaer was very reluctant in his decision as well, but believed the permit should be denied on behalf of the surrounding residents.

Aikens, who voted for the permit, said, "It’s tough, because I go back and forth." She stated that she understands the concerns of both the neighbors and the owner, who, she said, is only trying to run a business.

Other business

In other business, the zoning board:

— Unanimously granted Rose Wood Builders an in-law apartment variance for 41 Jean Place;

— Unanimously granted a special-use permit to Wayne Goodnow, of 31 Ableman Ave., to convert part of his residence into an office for his driving school;

— Discussed with Carlo and Kim Spano their plans to build an ice cream parlor at 1810 Western Ave. Board members were concerned with parking issues and wanted to see a more complete landscape plan.

The issue of 20-foot light posts was also brought, up and the board suggested installing shorter post of 12 to 15 feet. The board will consider the Spano’s updated plans next month: and

— Unanimously granted Leslie Coughtry an in-law apartment variance for a part of her existing 6332 Frenchs Hollow residence. The home is in an agricultural zone and adequate parking is provided.

Superintendent cool on full-day kindergarten

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The state’s Board of Regents has made a proposal that schools must offer full-day kindergarten programs.

"It almost seems like this is a solution in search of a problem," Gregory Aidala, superintendent for the suburban Guilderland schools, told The Enterprise yesterday.

He first raised the issue at Tuesday’s school-board meeting, stating the initiative could have a significant impact on the district’s budget. Aidala said he will be discussing the issue with legislators as the State Legislature has to adopt the proposal before it would become binding.

Guilderland currently has a half-day kindergarten program.

In 2000, a committee made up of teachers, parents, administrators, and local child-care workers "concluded we are meeting the needs of our students with the current half-day program," said Aidala.

He said there was a push for full-day kindergarten in some rural areas because they "don’t have the same access to pre-school programs as a suburban community."

And, Aidala went on, "There’s concern in urban areas where kids need to get off to a good start."

He concluded, "These are not issues we face."

Guilderland currently has 19 half-day sections of kindergarten spread over five elementary schools, Aidala said. To move to a full-day program would involve hiring nine-and-a-half teachers, he said.

The cost would come to about $900,000 annually, he estimated. This would include supplies and equipment, he said, as well as salaries and benefits for teachers and teaching assistants.

The district would not have to build new classrooms, Aidala said, because it currently rents space to BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) classes, which could be reclaimed. However, the district would lose about $230,000 annually, which is figured into the estimated cost of $900,000.

"The thing of great concern to us is unfunded mandates," said Aidala. "Nine-hundred-thousand dollars is a big hit."

The district would capture some aid the year after the program was initiated, he said.

"If our students were not performing well, we’d need to look at full-day kindergarten," said Aidala. ‘But they do well academically."

He referred to David Elkind’s 1981 book, The Unhurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon.

Elkind has said that "full-day kindergarten is a day-care initiative, not an academic initiative."

"Why are we rushing" Where are we going"" asked Aidala.

The Regents proposal calls for phasing in full-day kindergarten, beginning in 2007-08 and completing it by 2010-11.

"Certainly," Aidala concluded, "we could do it but there’s going to be a financial impact. I worry about our taxpayers, not just locally but state-wide."

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Accepted a clarinet donated by Carol Case to be used at Pine Bush Elementary School;

— Established non-resident tuition rates for the 2005-06 school year

The cost for kindergartners, in a half-day program, will be $3,515.

Primary students will be charged $6,503 and secondary students will be charged $9,915.

"We really have to abide by the formula set in law," said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders;

— Accepted the low bid of five for 840 cases of copy paper from Ricoh Corporation for $15,691.20.

Sanders described it as a "tractor-trailer load of paper," and said the district purchased this amount quarterly.

Board member Colleen O’Connell noted that the cost of recycled paper was substantially higher;

— Appointed 10 volunteers to the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, which will meet a half-dozen times in March.

Half of the volunteers — Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, Mark Grimm, Daniel Jacobowitz, David Langenbach, and Mary Toscano — have served before.

The other half — Cheryl Alban, Steven Gonick, Walt Jones, Sean Maguire, and Kevin Risko — are new.

Last year, 29 volunteers served. Aidala said he was optimistic that more volunteers would sign up before the first meeting on March 2;

— Tabled the adoption of a policy on the notification of releases of Level 3 sex offenders, considered to be the most dangerous in the state’s three-tiered system. Some inconsistencies will be righted before the next meeting, the superintendent said.

Board members also discussed sending pictures of Level 3 offenders home with elementary students in sealed envelopes.

Board member Richard Weisz said attendees at an elementary PTA meeting were split on whether including a picture is appropriate.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said she had attended a Guilderland Elementary PTA meeting where all those present were unanimous in wanting pictures, and some thought the pictures should be mailed home.

At the last board meeting, Bakst had opposed sending home pictures, saying they are available on-line and it is "unnecessarily scary";

— Heard congratulations from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress for students and teachers who participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Writing and Artwork Invitational;

— Heard that the high-school music department will present its annual fund-raiser for the Guilderland Music Parents and Friends on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m..

Tickets for "Pops Goes Around the World" cost $6 for table seats and $5 for stadium seats; and

— Met in executive session to discuss administrative performance reviews and to discuss a real-property issue.

School board skeptical over governor’s budget proposal

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — School board members here expressed some doubt and skepticism Tuesday about the governor’s proposed budget, particularly in regard to educating special-needs students and in regard to rebates as rewards for restrained spending.

Earlier this month, George Pataki unveiled his $110.7 billion executive budget proposal, which will no doubt change before the legislature adopts a state budget.

Pataki has proposed a $634 million increase in school aid, touting it as the largest increase ever proposed by a New York governor. The increase is comprised of two components — a $259 million increase in traditional school aid and a $375 million increase in Sound Basic Education Aid.

No increase is offered in operating aid, and aid for special-needs students in private placements is reduced while BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) aid is capped.

While budget figures from the governor’s office have set the reduction to aid for Guilderland at $1.375 million, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told the school board Tuesday that the reduction will actually be closer to $850,000.

This is because funds for the construction at Farnsworth Middle School were counted by the state in 2005-06 while the district slotted that aid in the previous year.

"We’re still looking at these numbers," said Sanders, indicating the complexity of the budget means time is needed for verification.

"This is a proposal...[which] still has to meet with the approval of the legislature," said Sanders. Typically, he said, there has been some restoration of aid.

If the numbers stay the same, he said, it would cause a tax-rate hike of about 1.5 percent for Guilderland taxpayers, he said.

Last year, district residents passed a $76 million budget, bringing a tax rate of $18.55 per 1,000 of assessed valuation for Guilderland residents.

The governor’s budget proposal includes what he calls a "STAR Plus Initiative." STAR stands for school tax relief and reimburses property-owning taxpayers some of their money.

The governor’s proposal designates $530 million for the STAR Plus program, it says, "to recognize and reward homeowners in school districts that restrain spending."

A rebate check of $400 would be provided to homeowners living in school districts that adopt a spending cap. The cap would be set at 4 percent, or 120 percent of the growth in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. Expenditures driven by enrollment increases and voter-approved capital projects would be exempt from the cap. Districts that adopt the spending cap would receive a 2-percent Flex Aid bonus beginning in the 2007-08 school year.

Board member Peter Golden suggested that, if the average home in Guilderland is worth $200,000, the state rebate would pay for the tax increase.

Board member John Dornbush said that getting the tax break would cause "monstrous cuts to our program."

He referred to an analysis made by David Little, director of government relations for the New York State School Boards Association, and said of the cap, "It’s totally impossible and unfeasible to meet that standard."

Several board members were equally distressed with the cuts proposed for special-needs education.

"Any clue why the governor continues to pick on special-needs students and BOCES aid"" asked board member Barbara Fraterrigo. "Every year, he tries to hurt these kids."

Under the heading "Special Education Reform," the governor’s proposal says, "The state’s special education finance system currently provides unintended fiscal incentives for children to be placed in restrictive settings. The budget advances reforms to conform the reimbursement formula for private special education programs to the same formula used for public school special education programs."

Pataki’s proposal also says, under "BOCES Reform," that, beginning in 2006-07, BOCES will be required to demonstrate savings for services compared to existing state-contract prices available through the State Office of General Services. Also, it says, the budget contains reforms to ensure that taxpayers will not be expected to fund educational services that exceed the costs of comparable services provided by individual school districts.

Fraterrigo pointed out that the students who are placed in private, rather than public, institutions are "severely" handicapped, needing specialized services.

Sanders reiterated the governor’s stance that private placement is the most restrictive while the model is to put students in the least restrictive environment.

"That makes absolutely no sense, of course," said Board Vice President Linda Bakst who serves as the board’s liaison for special education.

The district, she said, already follows the legal requirement to put students in the least restrictive environment.

Golden referred to a New York Times story about students being classified as having special needs who didn’t have to be.

"That has nothing to do with this," said Bakst.

Board members and the superintendent said they would be lobbying local legislators about these issues.

Builders of Future City design with compassion and imagination

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A plastic egg carton. Empty spools of thread. Pieces of a Pentium processor, a broken home computer. Old bottle caps.

The relentless research and soaring imagination of 18 Farnsworth Middle School students combined these mundane objects and many more to create a prize-winning Future City.

Farnsworth’s Future City team won first place in regional competition and will go on next month to compete nationally in Washington, D.C.

While Deb Escobar, the school’s enrichment teacher, produced a dozen pages of learning objectives met by the project — ranging from evaluating mathematical conjecture to developing a conceptual understanding of ecological crises — the kids had absorbed those lessons to such a degree that they could show their city to a visitor with unabashed enthusiasm, describing each part with pride.

There was no recitation or sense of rote learning as they talked about their handiwork.

"These kids like to think about great ideas and try to get them to work," said Tom McGreevy, a Farnsworth technology teacher who coached the team with Escobar.

"I liked how we got to use our creativity and imagination and we could do almost whatever we wanted," said Jonathan McBride, one of the team members.

Most of the city is built underground — symbolized by an arched structure at one end of the five-foot-long model. This was a solution to the problem posed by a thinning ozone layer and resulting global warming; only heavy industrial complexes are above ground. The citizens, with their schools, and libraries, and stadiums, and houses of worship, have moved underground.

Built on a scale of one inch to 50 feet, the model took 60 hours to build, said Escobar.

The kids named their city New Salem.

"We couldn’t decide where to put our city," said Paul Travers, one of its builders. "Originally it was in Oregon, which is why it was named New Salem." The capital of Oregon is Salem. "Then it moved to New York," said Travers. "The name just stuck."

The flying electric generators, which bob from the top of the model, represent a field of 60, reported student Dan Sipzner, who said he is referred to as the mayor of the city. "The wind in the jet stream is about 200 miles per hour," he said.

"They’re located high in the air where they can create energy by catching the winds," said Kyungduk Rho.

"Brainstorming" went on between the kids and the teachers working on the project to come up with creative solutions, said Escobar.

Take the generators, for example. "We talked about what kind of energy generator we could investigate and depict in a model," said McGreevy.

He went on about the flying generators, "It was really all the students’ idea. I had to send Dan out to do a prototype. He built the prototype and the kids made them. I showed them how to wire it."

McGreevy concluded, "They all know how those generators work. They know what’s in the model and how it fits together. If we did the work, they wouldn’t understand it."

Many pieces make a vibrant city

Jessie Feinman pointed out the sparkling free-form nano buildings. "Nanobots can grow the building to fit the needs of the people," he said.

Alex Dvorscak chimed in, describing the tiny size of a nanobot. "It’s nanoscopic," he says.

"The fiber-optic cables provide light for the underground city," said Alex Verrelli.

Sunlight, he said, powers the bio-domes where crops are raised.

The domes were once plastic egg cartons and cookie containers, said Lizzy Whalen.

She and Dana McLaughlin made the L & D Mall, a domed creation with mesmerizing graphics, names for their first initials.

Both of them like mall-shopping and included "all kinds of stores," said McLaughlin, ranging from clothes to groceries.

Andrew Coy pointed out the Sheraton hotel, a gleaming skyscraper with horizontal bands of alternate black and silver. The 21 penthouses on top were fashioned by Lily Li.

"The penthouses on top are for wealthy residents," said Li. They are made of push-pins. The hotel has 3,500 rooms, she said.

Verrelli pointed out the city’s schools — three pyramids in a row — one for elementary students, one for middle school, and one for high school. He described their design as "futuristic."

Feinman pointed out an office tower with vegetation on top. "It’s a nicer working environment for the time you get off," he said of the rooftop garden. "It’s a nice spot to have a meeting."

He then went on to describe the fusion reactor — a modernistic design created from a compact disk and empty spools of thread. "It powers a laser which fires at hydrogen molecules at very high temperatures," he said, "generating large amounts of electricity...One-hundred-and-twenty seconds is enough to power the planet."

Wade Appleby described the workings of the hydroplant, which gets its power, he said, from algae, separating hydrogen and oxygen particles.

Verrelli then pointed out the art museum and library and the "spiritual renewment center."

"New Salem welcomes all religions," he said. "There’s a synagogue inside and an Islamic temple, and churches for Christians," he said.

Paul Travers pointed out the jail, which has an exercise area on top as well as individual crystal cells for solitary confinement, he said.

The jail was built by Jonathan McBride.

The reason he placed the crystal cells on top of the jail, McBride said, is because it would keep society safe without being too tough on the prisoners.

"If they weren’t trusted outside," he said, "they could sit in the little dome — kind of like being outside but not really. Or they could work with plants."

The rescue building, Sipzner said, has special cars that take off to douse fire.

McLaughlin said bio-foam rather than water is used to douse the flames.

Whalen described the work that went into building the traditional-style city hall. Coffee stirrers were used to make the pillars in front, and the gold-domes on top — "all little rooms" — were once bottle caps. The center, large dome is trimmed with brocade.

Haejin Hwang and Justine Aloise built the zoo, based on a map of a real zoo.

Hwang pointed out the children’s zoo and the sea lion’s park. Aloise pointed out the dove cage, fashioned in a heart shape.

The pair made the cages out of tiny bits of folded metal wire.

"Children need a place to look at animals," said Hwang.

The library, which looks rather like a mushroom, was constructed from futuristic photos, Hwang said.

"It’s a holographic library," she said.

"On, cool!" said Dvorscak.

Brendan Blendell, known as "Dr. Brendan," spoke about the medical research center he built, which looks just like a picture of a modernistic center. He balanced a computer mouse on top of a cinnamon jar and painted the complex white to get the desired effect.

"The city has a population of 1.8 million and an average life expectancy of 88 years because of the research center," Blendell said.

Chris Miller built the Black Cat Stadium. He picked the name because of the association with witches in Salem, he said. A picture of cat’s head is centered in the turf of the foot ball field.

Bleacher seats ring the stadium, constructed inside of a foil pie plate.

Miller painstakingly built the tiny goal posts out of toothpicks.

Kari Balogh built the telecommunications plant out of a Styrofoam ball. It has solar panels for power and a satellite "to connect to other cities," she said.

"All about the kids"

Escobar and McGreevy were helped by an engineer mentor, Robert Sipzner of Barton and Loguidice.

Sipzner is the father of one of the team members; both Sipzner and Escobar made a point of saying Dan Sipzner had excelled on his own.

All three adults stressed that the work was done by the students; they said they served as resources and guides.

"This is all about the kids," said Robert Sipzner, as he refused to pose for a picture with the team’s trophy.

"The kids had all the ideas," said McGreevy. "We just filtered their ideas."

Escobar also credited Kim Drake. a Farnsworth science teacher, for "paving the way" by pioneering the school’s involvement in the Future City competition. "We all reach higher when we stand on each other’s shoulders," she said.

Nineteen teams competed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Capital District competition sponsored as a function of National Engineers Week. The Farnsworth team came in first, earning 350 out of 400 points.

The Capital District Region is one of three in New York; the others are in Buffalo and New York City. Altogether, 33 teams will compete in Washington, said Robert Sipzner.

In addition to being the regional champs, the Farnsworth team also won two prizes in the local contest — for best model design and for most innovative design for a sustainable environment.

"We were using wind and solar power as opposed to using finite resources," said Robert Sipzner.

"Competition is great," said McGreevy. Having a contest adds excitement and focus and leads to recognition "just like a sports team," he said.

McGreevy went on, "As a society, we do very little for academics compared with sports." He said of Farnsworth, though, "This school is very supportive."

The competition, he said, "gives these kids the opportunity to get recognition for being good students."

Five parts

The competition involves more than just producing a model of a city, Escobar explained. She described the process.

The first part is using SimCity software where students who create livable cities are rewarded by having them grow as residents move in.

"If the citizens are not happy, they can start riots or leave," said Escobar. "It teaches kids the importance of the infrastructure of a city — things like water and power and good transportation that kids don’t usually think about."

Second, the students do an engineering feasibility study. The problem that was posed was land with a vacant strip mall had to be reclaimed; that land had a gas station on it that had left pollution in its wake, Escobar said.

J.C. Higgins wrote an essay on removing MTBE from the soil, left by leaking gas tanks. Methyl tertiary-butyl ether, a fuel additive used to reduce carbon-monoxide emissions in the air, has had a harmful effect on groundwater.

"It soaks it up," Higgins said of the processor that sits above ground, over the bulk of city, "so we can live down here."

The essay counted for 90 points out of the total 400. "We owe a debt to him," said Escobar.

Higgins said he likes to write. "It’s fun," he said with a shrug. His favorite kind of writing is realistic fiction.

Third, the team had to produce a city abstract, describing New Salem’s key features.

Lily Li wrote the abstract, highlighting New Salem’s entertainment and special features.

Fourth, the students built their model city.

"A part of the SimCity model had to be represented," said Escobar. "But you could expand....The scenario they chose was global warming. The ozone was so bad that citizens couldn’t live above ground."

The fifth and final part was a presentation by three students.

The three students who volunteered to do that — Alex Dvorscak, Dana McLaughlin, and Dan Sipzner — will be sent to Washington for the national competition.

"They acted out a skit to tell about the city," said Escobar. "It had to be less than seven minutes long, encompass all facets, and be entertaining."

"True team effort"

As regional winners, the Farnsworth team receives accommodations and flights for five people, which the three students presenters will use along with Escobar and Robert Sipzner.

Farnsworth also received $2,000 in prize money which Escobar said will be used to help others on the team go to Washington, too. She is accepting contributions to defray costs for other team members and can be reached at 456-6010, ext. 3059.

The competition in the nation’s capital is from Feb. 18 to 23, which is during Guilderland’s school break.

"It’s a hard thing to have only three move on," Escobar said. "This has been a true team effort."

Winners of the national contest get to attend a space camp.

"I never focused on the prizes," said Escobar. "The emphasis has been on the learning experience — developing critical thinking skills, problem-solving, learning engineering principles, team work."

She went on, "I wasn’t after a win and I didn’t anticipate it."

This is Escobar’s fifth year working on Future City projects and she attributes part of this team’s success to a course she began teaching two years ago called "Future Engineers and Architects."

"This year’s team came out of last year’s course" said Escobar.

The 18 team members were chosen from among the 30 students in the class, based on achievement.

This year, Escobar said, 77 students signed up to take the course and she can accommodate only 25 or 28 at the most.

"It’s hands-on," she explained.

So, to winnow the applicants, she asked students over their December vacation to construct a building; 38 did. Escobar then chose 24 students who will begin the course on Jan. 26.

"It’s built a lot of enthusiasm in the school," Escobar said of the Future City competition. "In the real world, without a competition, would students spend 60 hours building a model""

McGreevy said of the final contest in Washington, "Win, lose, or draw — they had a good experience."

Sipzner, the engineer mentor, agreed with the teachers’ focus on learning rather than winning.

"I’m hoping the kids have a good time," he said of the Washington trip. "I don’t want them to focus on winning. They should on where they are and how they got there...If they say, ‘Look what I learned,’ that will take them someplace else."

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