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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, March 9, 2006

Wireless Internet speeds into 2 communities

By Matt Cook

ALTAMONT — By the summer, residents of two local areas could have access to high-speed wireless Internet.

Plans are in the works to bring the service to the village of Altamont and the hamlet of Rensselaerville. Altamont mayor James Gaughan said he wants to start by "lighting up" Orsini Park, in the village center.

"That’s step one in my long-range plan," Gaughan said. He hopes to expand the service from the park to the whole village, he said.

"That would be my ultimate goal, to become a wireless village, which would be, to my knowledge, the first in New York State to do this," Gaughan said.

According to Gaughan’s plan, the village would place a wireless router at the gazebo in the middle of the park. Nearby computer users, equipped with wireless cards, could freely access the broadband signal.

Judith Wines, director of the Altamont Library, is collaborating with Gaughan on the plan. The library is moving from the Key Bank building on Park Street, which borders Orsini Park on one side, to the old train station which borders it on the other.

"It makes a lot of sense for us to be involved," Wines said. "We’re always psyched to support something that helps connect people to information."

The library started broadcasting wireless Internet inside its building last fall, shortly after Wines came on. It has eased competition for the library’s four computer workstations, said Wines, who teaches computer courses at the library.

Also, she said, "It’s so convenient. If you have files on your laptop, you don’t have to transfer them."

Free wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, is starting to crop up in municipalities across the nation, offered by governments, private organizations, or a partnership of both. Often, it’s only located in downtown areas.

On Monday, St. Cloud, Fla., a 15-square-mile city, declared itself the first to offer free access city-wide. Philadelphia is constructing a network to cover its 135 square miles and Chicago is considering plans to fill in the blanks between existing Wi-Fi hotspots at coffee shops and libraries.

Gaughan said Wi-Fi, in one-square-mile Altamont, will attract "clean energy" technology business and young professionals to the mostly residential village.

"Just think of the possibilities," he said. "It gives us a foot up."

As for the cost, Gaughan is hoping it will be nothing. The village is working with the Time-Warner cable company to provide access in the park and there is grant money available for a possible village-wide project, Gaughan said.

Gaughan said he intends to "light up the park" by June.


In Rensselaerville, the plan is a little different. Instead of the town government, the project is being spearheaded by the Rensselaerville Library and the Rensselaerville Institute, a think tank and conference center located just outside the hamlet. And, the service will not be free.

Still, it’s an improvement over the current Internet options. Time-Warner’s digital cable lines don’t stretch to remote Rensselaerville, and Verizon, the phone company, does not offer its DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service there. That leaves residents with sluggish dial-up or pricey satellite service.

For access to the new wireless system, users will be charged $39.99 per month, said Christopher Brozek , network administrator for the Rensselaerville Institute.

"We were seeking a reasonably-priced option," Brozek said. "We thought that going with a wireless system would do that."

About a year ago, Brozek said, he had the idea of sharing the institute’s excess bandwidth on its super-high-speed T1 line with the town library. On weekends and in the evenings, Brozek explained, the institute doesn’t make full use of its line.

Very soon in his discussions with library Director Rebecca Lubin, Brozek said, the idea evolved into a full-scale project to bring broadband to the hamlet. Logical Net, a Schenectady-based Internet service provider, joined the effort.

"The plan is, they will build out the actual infrastructure and make the system," Brozek said.

The library will have its own T1 line, which will be routed to and broadcast from various points in the hamlet.

The service should start sometime this spring, Brozek said.

"We’ve had a lot of interested people asking, ‘When is it going to be available"" Brozek said.

Lubin has been trying to get high-speed Internet at the small Rensselaerville Library for the past five years, she said.

"The library was really running out of alternatives," Lubin said.

Its current access is on a 56k frame-to-frame relay from the Upper-Hudson Library System. The slow speed of the connection prohibits the library from automating its circulation with Upper-Hudson, Lubin said.

"It’s really pointless to automate our collection until we have broadband," she said.

In addition, she said, Rensselaerville patrons don’t have access to certain system-wide features, like downloadable audio books.

The new wireless system will solve that problem at a fraction of the cost of the library’s buying its own T1 line. The library will have to pay for the installation of some of the equipment, Lubin said, but she has applied to state Senator Neil Breslin’s office for funding.

"We’re very happy that we’ve been able to partner with the Rensselaerville Institute and find Logical Net," Lubin said. "For rural areas, it seems like wireless is the real way to go."

BKW school lunch efficiency criticized

By Matt Cook

BERNE — Frank Rinaldi offered "tough love" to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, said its superintendent, Steven Schrade.

At a meeting Monday, Rinaldi, the president of Slant Consultants, of Clifton Park, delivered an evaluation of the district’s food services. BKW had hired Rinaldi’s firm for $1,800.

Chief among Rinaldi’s recommendations is maximizing the efficiency of the school-lunch labor force.

"When a district subsidizes a program and puts money into it, you do not want to subsidize inefficiency," Rinaldi said.

In the 2004-05 school year, the district had to subsidize the food program $62,172. That year, Rinaldi pointed out, 77 percent of the program’s $316,398 revenue went towards labor costs. This school year, he said, the district has only budgeted $25,000 to help the cafeteria.

In his report, Rinaldi writes that, in order for the program to become self-sufficient, the district should renegotiate the terms of the current labor contract to provide health benefits only to employees working more than six hours per day.

In his presentation, Rinaldi said he did not recommend cutting back on the hours of lunch employees. However, he said, "There is time in the day to do more things."

According to his findings, Rinaldi said, the BKW food program serves 13.2 revenue-generating meals per labor hour, below the recommended rate of 18 to 20 meals per labor hour.

"A total of five employees are paid for two hours per day, five days per week to do nothing," Rinaldi writes in his report. "This is 50 labor hours per week that can be used to significantly reduce food costs by eliminating the purchase of expensive ‘prepared food.’"

Rinaldi said the excess employees should be "put to work" making more things from scratch, like pizza, cookies, and rolls, thereby saving the program money on pre-made food.

In his report, Rinaldi notes that all cafeteria employees take a half-hour lunch beak each day plus two 15-minute breaks, all at the end of the work day.

"This is simply a total misuse of district time," Rinaldi writes. ""Regardless of when staff is entitled to a lunch break or rest break, [program manager Debbie Rosko] must schedule breaks by individuals in order that the kitchen does not completely ‘shut down’ at 1 p.m. when everyone takes a break at the same time."

Also, Rinaldi said, "You need to find ways to increase revenue and the number of meals served."

To do this, he recommended:

—Increasing lunch participation by a minimum of 10 to 15 percent;

—Aggressively promoting breakfast at school;

—Maximizing participation by eligible free and reduced-price students;

—Increasing the price of milk from 25 cents to 40 cents per half-pint;

—Eliminating the use of a beverage distributor to fill and service the vending machines in favor of negotiating with Coca-Cola or Pepsi to place its machines in the cafeteria, at no charge to the district; and

—Offering a selection of limited snack food on the high-school serving line as well as the snack window, preventing students from having to stand in two lines.

"Unless the cost of labor can be significantly addressed or program participation increased or a combination of both, the program cannot achieve self-supporting status," Rinaldi writes.

Rosko’s response

"I think that his report has given me the ability to makes changes that, in the past, would have met with strong resistance," Rosko said in response to Rinaldi.

Rosko said she will be evaluating how labor hours are used. She pointed out that tight space in the high school cafeteria restricts traffic flow and discourages some students from eating there.

On free lunch, she said, "I need to find out why students who are supposed to be able to receive free meals are not participating."

There is no way other students can tell the difference between students who receive free meals and others who have paid in advance, she said.

To help the ratio of meals-to-labor hours, Rosko said, she’s planning on moving a lunch employee to staff a snack station during the school’s 13th period, when students are preparing to begin sports practices and other after-school activities.

Another new development, Rosko said, is a cold-food breakfast line at the elementary school, which will cut back on the amount of time students will have to stand in line to get breakfast.

The school board asked Rosko if the lunch staff could make more food from scratch, as Rinaldi recommended.

"Working with what we have here, not really," she responded. The program lacks the necessary equipment, she said. "Someone actually suggested to me, ‘Why don’t you make your own chicken nuggets"’ It’s impossible. It’s just impossible," Rosko said.

Other business

In other business at the March 6 meeting, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board:

—Heard estimates from Cataldo, Waters, & Griffith, architects, on proposed "mini-projects" to replace the roof over a portion of the elementary school and update the fire-alarm system in the elementary and high schools to meet the latest codes.

The firm said, at most, the roof would cost $80,000 and the fire-systems $40,000 each. To qualify for state funding, the firm said, the district would have to apply for each project separately.

The board postponed a vote on the projects to next month; and

—Voted, 3 to 1, to advertise the Westerlo school building for lease in three local papers: The Enterprise, The Greenville Press, and The Greenville Local.

Board member Edward Ackroyd voted against the motion. Board member Karen Storm was absent.

"Personally, I think you’re wasting your money," Ackroyd said. "We’ve only had one bite in what" Two years""

The current tenant is the Helderberg Christian School.

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