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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 1, 2006

NYS last in nation
Still no decision on voting machines

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — New York State is in last place when it comes to new voting machines. New York is the only state in the union and its territories, like Guam, that failed to comply with a federal mandate requiring all polling places to provide voters with new electronic voting machines.

New York’s current lever machines have been deemed illegal by the Congressional Help America Vote Act in 2000.

While many states chose a single voting machine, the New York Legislature failed to make a decision and left it up to individual counties.

Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars of federal funds are at stake as counties must each now choose a voting system and have them in place by the 2007 primaries.

For the past few weeks the Albany County Board of Elections has held public demonstrations in Guilderland of ballot marking and vote-by-phone systems, which will allow disabled citizens to vote independently.

"The state will not be replacing lever machines this year"We will be replacing them in 2007," said Bo Lapari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. Lapari is one of 12 members on a New York State advisory committee who is participating on the testing and certifying of voting machines.

Some of the machines on display at Guilderland’s Western Turnpike Golf Course Clubhouse, like the Avanti and Populax, are among five choices that counties have for an accessible voting machine.

In April, the Department of Justice allowed New York to postpone compliance to the federally mandated Help America Vote Act until 2007. In early May, New York submitted an additional plan in court pertaining to the lawsuit filed against it by the Department of Justice. The additional plan called for placing one or more accessible ballot-marking or vote-by-phone systems in each of the state’s 62 counties before the 2006 elections.

Election officials and voting machine advocates often refer to this 2006 plan as "Plan B" or as "interim solution plan."

According to New York State Board of Elections spokeswoman Allison Carr, the vote-by-phone systems will be available this year at polling places. The way it works, Carr told The Enterprise, is that a number will first be dialed by a poll worker and, once a voter’s registration is verified for that particular district, the voter may then proceed to cast his or her vote by phone. The system cannot be used outside of a polling place, said Carr.

"Once the testing is complete, we will issue a report," Carr said about the accessible ballot markers being tested for this year.

All testing is done by an independent company, overseen by the state’s 12-member advisory committee.

"When a machine is certified, the county is free to pick it," said Lapari. "I want the testing to be very thorough."

Why new machines"

The voting machine controversy stems from the 2000 presidential race in Florida, in which the Supreme Court intervened and decided George W. Bush won the race over former Vice President Al Gore, after numerous recounts and questionable ballots.

In New York State, after years of debate in the legislature, Attorney General Elliot Spitzer issued a report in February of 2005 stating that New York missed its deadline to comply with HAVA in 2004 and would not be given a second extension after 2006. Spitzer warned that, if the state could not comply, it would lose approximately $221 million in federal funds to upgrade its voting system. Even if the money were lost, New York would still be forced by the federal government to upgrade its voting systems, Spitzer said at the time.

After months of party-line bickering, the New York State HAVA committee handed down a decision just before the session ended, allowing individual counties to pick new voting machines.

The decision sent scores of voting-machine lobbyists from the halls of the legislature to the doors of county officials around the state.

The decision essentially comes down to two types of voting machines: the optical scanner and the direct recording electronic machines.

The optical scanner scans paper ballots filled out by voters and records the vote electronically, much like taking a standardized test in most schools. The original paper ballot is then stored in a locked box behind the machine, providing an original paper trail. The technology has been used in other states for more than two decades.

The DRE machines tabulate votes electronically and print out the results on a long roll of paper very similar to that of an ATM (automatic teller machine). Voters enter their selections using punch keys, following instructions on the computer screen, and then the vote is recorded. The technology has been used in elections for fewer than 10 years.

Lapari described the Plan B solution as "what can only be called a minimal implementation of HAVA," but added that it’s better than "attempting a wholesale replacing of lever machines without proper certification by 2006.

"It would’ve been a real train wreck," Lapari told The Enterprise.

The purpose of the accessibility ballot markers is to allow disabled voters to privately and independently cast their votes, according to New York State deputy director of public information, Robert Brehm.

"Right now, we are testing the machines for one year’s time in New York as an interim solution," Brehm said.

Lapari, a strong advocate of optical-scan technology during the state’s legislative discussion on the matter, said he hopes to see some counties still consider the technology.

"We know it will include DRE’s," said Lapari about the counties’ ultimate voting machine decision. "We hope it will include optical scanners.

"The cost of implementing DRE’s is going to be huge. The county commissioners just don’t get it," Lapari said, adding it could take two DRE’s to replace a single lever machine at a range of $8,000 to $10,000 apiece.

The real problem has yet to come, according to Lapari. County election officials who seem to have already made up their minds on buying DRE’s say they will not be able to use the machines next year that they buy for this year because they are compatible with optical scanners, not DRE’s, said Lapari.

The money for buying this year’s machines is coming out of each county’s HAVA funds and testing for the 2007 state-wide replacement machines will begin this summer, according to the New York State Board of Elections.

"By the end of summer, we will start to see counties certify machines and begin placing orders," said Lapari. "There’s going to be a lot of people on Election Day who are going to go in, see a new machine, and never knew it was going to be there."

Pair collared for stealing puppy

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Peter J. Mertens, 42, and Anne Neander, 41, of Voorheesville, were arrested by Guilderland Police on May 17 for stealing a puppy from a Crossgates Mall store. The two were charged for fourth-degree grand larceny and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, both felonies.

The Guilderland Police began a month-long investigation after The Pet Company in Crossgates Mall reported a stolen Australian shepherd puppy, valued at $1449.92. Mertens and Neander were charged with stealing the dog which had a microchip implanted in it for tracking, and for being in possession of the animal in room 56 of the Governor’s Motor Inn on Western Avenue, according to the arrest report.

Mertens is described in the arrest report as a longshoreman who is single and lives at 89 State Farm Road.

Neander is described in the arrest report as a landscaper who is married and lives at 64 Normanskill Road. She is described as being impaired because of alcohol at the time of the arrest.

Mertens and Neander were both taken into custody without incident and released on appearance tickets, according to the report.

Zoning board tackles issues
Big sign allowed in plaza

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — TGI Friday’s in Stuyvesant Plaza will have a new look, and the Renaissance Floral shop on Western Avenue says it will use its front lawn as retail space.

Zoning board members tackled some substantial issues at their last meeting. They debated whether or not the area surrounding plazas and malls are "neighborhoods,’ or just plain parking lots; what constitutes a sign; and the difference between retail and display areas along Route 20.

The board first listened to a presentation by TGI Friday’s, a popular restaurant and bar at Stuyvesant Plaza, asking for two sign variances. It wants to add two new signs to its building’s new facade. As part of an entire overhaul of the restaurant’s appearance, the signs are to face into the plaza.

The town’s code states that any sign more than 50 square feet needs variance from the zoning board. TGI Friday’s is asking for 317 square feet of combined signs, according to chief building inspector and zoning administrator, Donald Cropsy.

The architectural design surrounding the lettering on the new signs affixed to the building’s northwest side were added to Cropsy’s calculations.

"Why should the architectural element be treated as a sign"" a representative for the restaurant asked the board.

Barber referred to the town’s zoning codes to clarify and answer the question.

According to the town’s code, a sign is "any advertising medium, structure, planting or device which advertises, directs or calls attention to any business, article, substance or service. A sign may be painted, printed, pasted, posted, suspended from or affixed to any building, billboard, wall, fence, railing, vehicle, natural object or structure of any kind on real property or upon the ground itself."

The board’s chairman, Peter Barber, said that the purpose of the sign codes "is to make sure that signs do not proliferate the landscape."

Supervisor Kenneth Runion has shared similar sentiments on signs in town with The Enterprise on several separate occasions.

"I believe, and I think it’s a close call, that architectural design does fall with the definition of a sign simply because of the use of the words in the definition of a sign," Barber said. "It is a structure and it’s used to draw attention to the business."

Board member Sharon Cupoli agreed.

"I don’t see the words, I see the design"To me, it’s all one in the same"I think it’s a sign," said Cupoli.

Board member James Sumner pointed out that the restaurant’s existing sign and the two proposed signs did not match. "Why do you need three different signs to promote TGI Friday’s"" he asked.

"They’re asking for it and there is no requirement that they have uniformity with their signs. They can package it any way they want," Barber responded.

A neighborhood impact"

The board expressed mixed responses to whether the proposed signs within the plaza would impact the surrounding neighborhood.

"Why is this any different from, for example, Crossgates, when there are some signs there that exceed 50 feet"" Barber questioned, saying a previous board had granted those variances. "From my understanding, that was done in part because there weren’t any residents nearby that might be impacted."

Barber said the "community" inside the plaza that would be affected would be the parking lot since the signs would not be visible from either Fuller Road or Western Avenue.

"Hypothetically, if all the impacts are within the plaza, then where is the harm to the character of the neighborhood" The neighborhood is potentially the parking lot," Barber said.

Not everyone agreed.

"I’m not comfortable with that logic," said board member Charles Klaer. "If Stuyvesant Plaza chooses to create a carnival atmosphere within its parking area"does the town care" We haven’t applied any variance on that logic to all the other signs to come before us. Why would this request want us to undo everything that’s come before""

Board member Patricia Aikens sided with Barber’s logic.

"I think, when you talk about the affect on the neighborhood, it is a plaza and I’m not so persuaded that it’s having a detrimental affect of some sort on the neighborhood because of the location and what else is located in the plaza," said Aikens. "It is my opinion, that across the county this is what Friday’s looks like."

"I guess the argument would be, that if you grant this, then you have a tough time saying no to other businesses within the plaza asking for the same variance," said Barber, who added, "But I still come back to, if they did, what’s the harm""

The TGI Friday representative interjected, saying, "The landlord has control of its tenants and what its tenants can do"It has to fit in with the whole scope of what the landlord deems appropriate, even before it reaches this board."

He went on, "It would not necessarily open the floodgates for other tenants to come in and ask for a greater amount (of signs) because the landlord would prevent that from occurring."

"I’m sure that they probably would, but we usually have to be the body that tries to enforce the code on its sign variance," Barber responded. "We have to look at our requirements in terms of what we do."

Klaer agreed with the landlord issue, but not the neighborhood idea.

"There is sort of a community investment in what the plaza looks like that goes beyond, at least from my perspective, the authority of the landlord, and needs to be considered to have some weight," said Klaer.

The board made a unanimous decision, which states that architectural design surrounding the lettering of a business is to be considered as part of the sign.

"I’m going to make a motion to approve the variances," Barber said after the vote, asking for a second to his motion.

Board member Susan Marci spoke up and seconded the motion.

"I am disappointed that there was even a second for that, frankly," said Klaer.

"There were a variety of businesses that have had as compelling, or much more compelling, reasons for extensive signage, and this board was not prepared to do that," Klaer said. "When you add this all up, you’re talking about a significant variance."

The final roll call came down to a 5-to-2 vote.

Barber, Aikens, Cupoli, Merci, and board member Michael Marcantonio voted "yes" while Klaer and Sumner voted "no."

"My question is where does this leave us in the future for substantial sign variances"" asked Sumner. "I’m voting in the negative."

"This is a slippery slope. First of all, I don’t buy into the neighborhood issue. I think it is an impact on this neighborhood," said Klaer. "This request is so substantial that we will have a very difficult time holding any other business to the code."

Floral shop permit

After several years of friction with a floral shop that displayed its wares along busy Route 20, the zoning board this month approved an amendment to the shop’s special-use permit.

Renaissance Floral shop, located at 1561 and 1563 Western Ave., can now add an additional landscape display area, and build a 25-foot by 30-foot storage area.

The admendment was approved 6-to-1, with Sumner dissenting.

There was a misunderstanding between the board and shop owner David Schmitt about the use of retail space along the Western Avenue portion of his store.

"This is my business," Schmitt told the board this month. He added that he intends to sell individual items displayed on his front lawn if someone is interested in purchasing them. Schmitt said he will replace single items on display if they are sold with similar merchandise.

"This has been the same basic discussion for the past three years," Sumner said about the misunderstanding.

The board concluded, saying that Schmitt could not use his display area in the front of the store as a retail shop. Cropsy said there were few exceptions in town where retail display was allowable and he gave the example of Robinson’s Hardware Store, which has been operating on Western Avenue for over 50 years, as an example.

Other business

In other business, the zoning board unanimously approved:

— A privacy fence for Derek Griffin at his 1 Seeley Dr. corner-lot home;

— A single-car garage for Mary Armstrong at her 3298 East Old State Road home.

"I’ve got a PT Cruiser that’s all tricked out and I don’t want to leave it in the rain," Armstrong told the board; and

— A two-week temporary banner for the Cat’s Meow restaurant located on 14 New Karner Rd.

2006 GCSD report card
Highlighting strong high-school finishes, after challenges along the way

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In presenting data from required state testing, known as the school report card, Nancy Andress this year reversed her usual order and started with results from high school Regents exams.

"This is where we want to be," said Andress, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction. "Kids aren’t little cogs in a wheel," all rolling along at the same rate, she told the school board.

As the state and federal government have ramped up testing requirements in recent years, Guilderland School Board members have expressed varying views on whether rich curriculum need be or should be sacrificed to teach in such a way that students will perform well on high-stakes tests.

Some board members have said they’d rather give up some points on test scores to focus on more creative learning. Others have said there is no conflict; standardized tests cover the basics and curriculum can build from there. Still others have said it is important to teach students how to succeed on tests.

The report-card format has led to widespread comparison of schools. The state’s education commissioner has said one of the functions of the testing system is to alert schools to problems so students get help when they need it, but some teachers have complained the test results are so delayed that it makes meaningful remediation difficult.

With these debates as a backdrop, Andress quoted from Deborah Meier, a scholar at New York University, that, if a function of public schooling is to strengthen democracy, then kids need to learn about trade-offs, critical judgments, and responsibilities inherent in democratic life.

"If we seek only to improve scores on tests of standards determined by others," writes Meier, "then educating students for democratic life is not necessary."

Andress called the report card "a picture of our school district performance" that "offers a measure of accountability." That "picture" was taken in the 2004-05 school year. The data is compiled in an inch-thick report and is also available on-line at the district’s website: www.guilderlandschools.org.

Guilderland is grouped for comparison with other wealthy school districts, like Bethlehem locally, and Scarsdale in Westchester County.

Andress stressed, "This is just one piece of our whole educational program."

Her introduction stated, as it has in recent years, "We recognize that such critical areas as love of learning, performance skills, and habits of mind and character that lead to successful living in a democracy are not numerically represented."

In the course of making her televised presentation, Andress also said, "We’re looking at a lot more than just a score. We want to see growth over time."

She also said the test results were used to inform instruction.

The high-school results Andress started with showed high passing and advanced rates in state-wide Regents exams.

The only subject where the passing rate wasn’t above 90 was in Math B. In Math A, the passing rate (meaning students scored between 65 and 100 percent) was 95 percent, and the advanced rate (meaning students scored between 85 and 100 percent) was 50 percent. But in Math B, the passing rate was 68 percent and the advanced rate was only 18 percent. Andress called it "a more challenging exam."

The Class of 2005 graduation information showed that 97 percent earned Regents diplomas, meaning they had passed all the state-required exams. Seventy-one percent of the class went on to four-year colleges, and 24 percent went to two-year colleges.

Younger students

Tests for middle- and elementary-school students are graded at four performance levels. Students at the top level, 4, exceed standards; students at the next level, 3, meet standards; students at Level 2 need extra help; and students at Level 1 are deemed to have "serious academic deficiencies."

Middle school students at Farnsworth went through what Andress termed "the middle-school dip." The phenomenon is state-wide.

In English Language Arts in 2005, for example, 67 percent of Farnsworth eighth-graders scored at levels 3 and 4.

Andress included a chart that showed, in 2002, sixty-seven percent of Farnsworth eighth-graders also scored at levels 3 and 4. Those same students then took the English Regents exam as high-school juniors and 98 percent of them passed.

There appears to be little or no "middle-school dip" in science with 92 percent of Farnsworth eighth-graders scoring at levels 3 or 4.

At the elementary level, the state requires scores to be figured by individual schools. Guilderland has five elementary schools. All of the Guilderland scores were above state averages.

At Altamont and Westmere elementary schools, 8 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, an indication of household income. At Guilderland, Lynnwood, and Pine Bush, the percentage is half that.

In English, fourth-graders who met or exceeded standards were 78 percent at Guilderland Elementary, 79 percent at Westmere, 81 percent at Altamont, 87 percent at Lynnwood, and 88 percent at Pine Bush.

In math, fourth-graders who met or exceeded standards were 89 percent at Westmere, 92 percent at Guilderland, 93 percent at Altamont and Lynnwood, and 97 percent at Pine Bush.

In science, fourth-graders who met or exceeded standards were 93 percent at Lynnwood, 94 percent at Westmere, 96 percent at Guilderland and Pine Bush, and 97 percent at Altamont.

and challenges

Andress highlighted in her presentation a list of nine "successes" and seven "challenges." The successes were:

— Recognition of Farnsworth as a high-performing gap-closing school, based on math and English results;

— Ninety percent of fourth-grade general education students scored at or above the state standards in English and 98 percent in math;

— Ninety-five percent of Guilderland High School students went on to college;

— Ninety-seven percent of general education high-school graduates received Regents diplomas;

— Seventy-seven percent of Regents diplomas were with Advanced Designation;

— Sixty-eight percent of students with disabilities received Regents diplomas;

— Results on Regents exams, at both passing and advanced levels, were strong;

— Teachers and administrators receive training to challenge students, develop curricula, refine teaching, and prepare for assessments; and

— Eighty-percent took the Scholastic Assessment Test, with strong results.

The challenges listed by Andress were:

— To work on strong performances at all levels in math, especially in middle school, to meet the requirements of the new math standards;

— To work on early intervention and to continue to provide assistance for students who do not meet the state standards;

— To develop systems for tracking performance of students and managing data in meaningful ways through the state’s Data Warehouse System;

— To support students with disabilities to enable them to meet federal requirements in math and English;

— To encourage higher levels of performance for students with exceptional academic ability at all levels;

— To meaningfully share test results with parents at all levels; and

— To continue curriculum mapping to make core curricula part of the fabric of instruction.

Other business

In other business at its May meetings, the board:

— Honored 21 staff members who are retiring, giving each one a plaque and applause.

"They have touched many lives in many different ways," said Susan Tangorre, the district’s personnel director, adding a characteristic they have in common is "commitment to the Guilderland schools";

— Officially declared the results of the May 16 budget vote and school board election tallies.

"I would like to thank the community or their continued support...It’s a difficult time and we appreciate the vote of confidence," said Vice President Linda Bakst, who presided over the meeting in the absence of President Gene Danese;

— Accepted the lower of two bids for copy paper — $28,442.19 from Ricoh Corporation;

— Accepted the lowest bids for athletic supplies for the next school year. Seven vendors bid on over 75 items. The three most substantial awards were $2,324 to Passon’s Sports; $2,093.63 to Scholastic Sports Sales, Ltd.; and $1,170.49 to Cannon Sports;

— Decided, after discussion and debate, to meet in closed session with new board members on July 11, before the public reorganizational meeting. The closed session will be for "team-building activities," Superintendent Gregory Aidala said, allowed under the state’s Open Meetings Law;

— Discussed nominating new board officers, as the current vice president and president are retiring from the school board.

Member Thomas Nachod volunteered again this year to survey members to see who wants to run for office. The board will elect its leaders at the July 11 meeting;

— Heard from Andress that Micki Nevett, Westmere Elementary library media specialist, has been elected through the American Library Association to serve on the 2008 Newberry Committee, which awards medals annually for exemplary children’s books;

— Learned that 43 seventh- and eighth-graders at Farnsworth Middle School, under the direction of enrichment teacher Deb Escobar, participated in the 2006 Johns Hopkins Center of Talented Youth SAT Challenge.

Seven students received state awards and 22 will receive certificates of distinction, meaning their scores on the SAT exam equal or exceed the average score for a college-bound senior;

— Heard that Guilderland staff developer, Kathy Oboyski-Butler, received a New York State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Affiliate Award;

— Learned that Seth Schwartzbach, son of Mr. and Mrs. Barry Schwartzbach of Slingerlands, won the youth men’s division of the Joel Dolven Memorial vocal competition sponsored by the Mendelssohn Club;

— Heard that Robert Whiteman, enrichment and class teacher at Westmere Elementary School, was selected by the Walt Disney Company as one of 44 teachers to be honored this year for the Disney Teacher Awards. Of the 76,000 teachers nominated, 10,000 applied.

The award comes with a $5,000 honorarium for the school and $10,000 personal money for Whiteman. Disney will also pay for training for Whiteman so he may "build more collaborative cultures" within the school to benefit children, Andress said;

— Learned that students, under the direction of Escobar, again did well in the state History Day competition.

Eighth-graders Katie Wells, Sohee Rho, and Casey Gerety for the second year in a row won first place for a documentary — "The March in Washington: Standing Up or Freedom" — and will compete nationally.

Ninth-grader Zagreb Mukerjee won first place in the senior category for his paper on Mahatma Gandhi and will also compete nationally.

Jennifer Robbiano and Lessa Cerio made it through the runoffs for their documentary on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Jean Kang and Bobby Ruggles each won a Nation Archives "Best Use of Primary Sources" award. Kang wrote a paper on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ruggles created an exhibit called "Tarnished Badges, Broken Dreams," about Frank Serpico blowing the whistle on corruption in the New York City Police Department.

Brendan Blendell also competed with his individual documentary on Pete Seeger, activist and folksinger; and

— Met in executive session to discuss the superintendent’s annual performance review.

FMS trio
Presents film at Smithsonian

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The Smithsonian Institute has chosen a documentary made by three Farnsworth Middle School students to be presented at the National Museum of American History on Wednesday, June 14.

Eighth-graders Casey Gerety, Sohee Rho, and Katie Wells focused on the civil rights struggle in 1963 in their 10-minute film, The March on Washington: Standing Up for Freedom. (See The Altamont Enterprise, May 25, 2006.)

Last year and this year, the trio produced documentaries that placed first in the New York State History Day competition. They are slated to compete this year in the national History Day competition, in College Park, Md. June 11 to 15.

"They were picked out of 2,000 finalists; they are three out of nine students to present at the Smithsonian," said their advisor, Farnsworth enrichment teacher Deb Escobar yesterday.

"It’s almost better than winning," she said of the History Day national competition. "You’re compared against all the other categories, except papers."

The other categories include exhibits and performances.

Escobar said the three students were "jumping up and down" with excitement over the news of their selection.

Their teacher had the last word: "I said, ‘I told you it was really, really good,’" said Escobar.

Senior pranksters clear books from library
While juniors paint new slogan on water tower

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Last week, in what is being called a senior prank, the Guilderland High School library was emptied of many of its books and "The Class of 2006" was written on walls and a ceiling.

The break-in occurred late on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, other ambitious pranksters painted a new message on the water tower near Guilderland High School.

Decades ago, the tradition for graduating students was to paint a message on a large boulder in front of the high school.

Current graduates have moved up in the world, and painted the tower slogans. The tower is located in fenced property, which used to serve as an Army depot and is now owned by the Northeastern Industrial Park.

Jane Dwyer, who lives on Depot Road, called The Enterprise this week to find out what the current message says.

"Yesterday, I looked out my bedroom window," she said on Wednesday, "and they had painted out the old message, covered it all over in red and there was a new one."

Dwyer said she had liked the last message: "Life’s a trip. Enjoy the ride."

A few years ago, a tower message raised a few eyebrows: "Life’s short. Party naked."

She marveled at how the students managed to get the words up there. "There’s a guardrail and it’s very high," she said. "I don’t know how they do it."

The current message, said Dwyer, starts out with the traditional "Life’s" but she couldn’t make out the next word. "It ends with ‘Suck it up,’" she said. "I even got out my binoculars, but I can’t make it out."

The Enterprise visited the site to read the words: "Life’s a blow-pop. Suck it!"

Dwyer liked the earlier, more "optimistic" message better, she said, and wondered why it was painted over so soon. Usually, a new message is painted once a year by the graduating class.

A look at the back side of the tower reveals the reason. It says: "Juniors ’07 — We get our s**t done early!"

Library break-in

With last week’s library caper, other seniors made up for their classmates’ prank.

"A large number of books were put in an adjacent library classroom," said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.

Seniors then volunteered to help move the books back.

"Probably 30 kids at a time worked, rotating in and out," said Sanders. "They did a fantastic job."

Asked how the pranksters got into the school, Sanders replied, "That’s under investigation."

Asked if school video cameras recorded the break-in, Sanders said, "There are cameras. We don’t want to tip our hand."

The investigation is "ongoing," Sanders said this Tuesday and none of the culprits have been identified.

Asked if they would be arrested, Sanders said, "A decision has not been made yet."

Asked what the costs were to repair the damage, Sanders said, "There was not a large dollar cost to removing the graffiti. It doesn’t rise to the level of an insurance claim."

There was no physical permanent property damage, he said.

A lot of the cost, he said, will be the time spent by library staff "putting the books in exact order." Although the senior volunteers got the books back on the shelves in their approximate places, Sanders said, "The books need to be put in proper sequence."

Sander said the high school principal, Michael Piccirillo, has met with the student council and talked to senior class representatives.

"He’s indicated it’s not what we expect," Sanders said.

Asked about the frequency of senior pranks, Sanders said, "Pranks occur from time to time."

He concluded, "It wasn’t necessary. We would want our students to be respectful of the school."

On Thomas’s senior housing
Re-zone recommended

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — The planning board last Wednesday carefully considered Jeff Thomas’s request for re-zoning the site of the former Bavarian Chalet to multiple residence for a senior living center. The board unanimously recommended that the town re-zone the site, currently zoned for local business, for multiple residence only if a senior center is built on the site.

The recommendation did not come easily, because Thomas’s project needs "substantial variances," Chairman Stephen Feeney said at the board’s agenda review. With a quick glance at the proposal, Feeney counted up to eight variances that would be needed to allow the project on the Bavarian Chalet site, even with a re-zone. For instance, town standards call for 100-foot setbacks in areas zoned for multiple residence, but Thomas’s plan uses 50-foot setbacks.

"They know it," said Town Planner Jan Weston. Weston said that four others have contacted her about similar senior projects in Guilderland, but that she has not received any applications yet.

Earlier this month, Thomas presented his plan to the town board and offered to create a public senior-citizen community center for the town’s use if he is allowed to go forward with the project. A public hearing is scheduled for June 6.

"A larger density will allow us to dedicate a portion of the property as a town community center," Thomas told the town board on May 2.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion responded at the time, "We need to keep an open mind on the density issue in exchange for the benefit we will receive."

Runion also said that the housing would need to be affordable. "We’re looking for housing for the common senior citizens," he said.

Thomas, who lives in Knox and owns WeatherGuard Roofing, also has plans to build two other senior housing complexes — one in Berne and the other in Guilderland, just outside of Altamont.

"Tough spot"

At last Wednesday’s planning board meeting, Feeney hesitated to recommend the re-zone because of the message the planning board’s decision would send to the zoning board of appeals and the town board.

"It puts them in a tough spot, procedurally," he said.

Board member Terry Coburn said that multiple residence is a good use for the site.

At the meeting, she said, "I think this is overuse of the site, maybe. It should be cut back. But, we can deal with that at site plan [review]."

Thomas questioned Feeney’s insistence on the 100-foot setback. He said that the standard is for multiple family use, which could include several children on the site, whereas his senior center needs less space.

When Feeney explained that the code calls for 100 feet, Thomas said that no town code is written specifically for seniors.

"Code doesn’t differentiate it," Feeney said. He said that a variance is significant from a legal standpoint.

The project, called Mill Hollow Senior Living, is at 5060 Western Turnpike on 12.9 acres that reach back to French’s Mill Road. The proposed residences are for those 55 years and older. Feeney questioned whether or not 55 -year-olds are retired, but Thomas said that the people on the waiting list for Mill Hollow are older than 65.

Other issues the board contemplated were zoning the property based on a senior residence, or simply based on a lower-density use, and sight-distance issues in the project’s traffic design.

"It’s a strange configuration, let’s put it that way," Feeney said.

Board member Lindsay Childs, a member of the town’s pathways committee, said that the proposal shows few walkways. Feeney asked if Thomas would put in connecting sidewalks between the property and surrounding businesses.

Thomas discounted the board’s concerns, stating that the living center is a community of its own, and that walkways are within the community.

"That’s very nice, but they can’t walk and get a cup of coffee or buy a newspaper," Childs said.

Feeney considered making sidewalk installation a condition of approval. He speculated that the cost could run about $60 per foot for a 1,000 foot sidewalk. He said that, if the developer does not put the sidewalk in when the project is built, then the town would have to put one in later at public expense.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the planning board:

— Approved a request by Frederick and Patricia Wagner to subdivide 146 acres into two lots measuring 90 and 55.9 acres. The 90-acre lot, with two homes, barns, and other outbuildings, is a pre-existing, non-conforming use. The second lot is vacant.

The board asked that the Wagners show both a small stream that runs to the Black Creek, and a small cemetery with public access on the final plat.

Coburn asked if the board would be creating an illegal lot by allowing the 90-acre lot.

"We’re not increasing the non-conformity," said planning board attorney Linda Clark;

— Approved Michael Cleary’s request for a four-lot subdivision of 33 acres on Depot Road. The board said that Cleary must pave the steep common drive, show a conservation easement near wetlands on the property, and show the locations of percolation tests for septic systems on the final plat;

— Approved a request for a two-lot subdivision of 20.1 acres on Curry Road. An existing home would be left on a one-acre lot, and the remainder of the property would be developed in the future, said Gilbert VanGuilder.

The board approved the request on the condition that the site receives an area variance for the road frontage. A 48- to 50-foot frontage variance would create an odd-shaped lot, the board said, and its approval was not to be construed as approval of the proposal. The board said, however, that the request met town requirements.

Weston said that, because of the "hodgepodge" of lots on Curry Road, the new lots would not be out of character for the neighborhood; and

— Approved a request by Tony Trimarchi to open a land surveyor office at 1869 Western Ave. Weston said that a special-use permit is needed to change tenancy in the building. The company would have three employees, Trimarchi said. Feeney asked Trimarchi to remove or adjust one of the six parking spaces so that all the parking is perpendicular to the structure.

Changing of the guard at Hungerford Market

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — St. Patrick, Martin Luther King, the Presidents — and Susan Mc Gaughanea. All of them have their own day.

Altamont’s mayor, James Gaughan, declared May 25, 2006 Susan McGaughanea Day in the village. It was to celebrate her retirement and her birthday.

"She was a critical and important part of our village," said the mayor. He said he wanted to do something special to recognize all the work she has done.

After seven-and-a-half years of running her bagel business, Sue McGaughnea is set to retire. At a customer-appreciation party last Thursday, friends, family, and long-time customers packed Hungerford Market to wish McGaughnea well, and to welcome Jean Conklin, who will officially take the reins on June first.

"I was a customer," Conklin said of Hungerford. "I used to buy a blueberry scone every day." After spending two years running The Berne Store, Conklin thought she was ready for something different.

She isn't planning any major changes to the menu but she would like to add smoothies and some new sandwiches.

"If it’s not broke, don't fix it," said Conklin, quoting the familiar adage.

The biggest changes for the business will be a catering service and evening hours a couple of nights a week. Aside from that, Conklin says, she'll keep things "pretty much as they are."

Some of the familiar faces at the shop will also be changing since "the bagel girls," as Katherine Urban called herself and Andrea Dean, will be graduating from college. Mike Dean, Andrea’s brother, will be starting his freshman year at college this fall. Conklin hopes to have her three daughters, Sarah, Casey, and Brittany, helping with the business.

"It sounds like Jean will keep it the same," said village trustee Kerry Dineen at Thursday's gathering.

Customers at the party said they'll keep coming back and look forward to seeing what Conklin will do with the place.

"Sue made the best soup in the Northeast," said Ed Frank on Thursday. All the recipes from the restaurant will be passed on to Conklin. "She’s got ’em down cold," said McGaughnea.

"I’ll help whenever she needs it," said McGaughnea, who is looking forward to spending time with a grandchild expected in Minnesota. She plans on doing some volunteer work in the fall and relaxing.

"If Altamont is half as good to her as it was to me," said McGaughnea, "she'll be fine."

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