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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 16, 2006

New lotto director
McLaughlin hits the jackpot

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — For the lotto, all you need is a dollar and a dream.

However, someone has to oversee the nearly $7 billion brought in by the state lottery. Today, that man is Robert J. McLaughlin.

The New York Lottery has just named him to be its new director of all state-wide operations.

McLaughlin, of Guilderland’s Fort Hunter area, started his new $140,000-year job on Nov. 6, and he told The Enterprise that he’s ready for the challenge.

"The new job is great," he said. "It’s an honor to be appointed."

McLaughlin was appointed by the state’s Tax and Finance commissioner, Andrew S. Eristoff.

Citing his goals, McLaughlin said that he wants to continue generating billions of dollars for education around the state, expand revenues brought in through video lottery terminals, and maintain vigilance for gambling addiction problems in New York.

McLaughlin is now responsible for the lottery’s ticket sales and distribution, prizes, drawings, accounting, auditing, investigations, sales agent relations, reviewing budgets, and for personnel matters.

"He oversees the entire New York State Lottery," said New York Lottery spokeswoman, Jennifer Mauer. "It’s like running a Fortune 500 business, except that we’re a state agency."

Where the money goes

The New York Lottery reported $6.8 billion in revenues last year, giving $2.2 billion, or about 32 percent, to education.

The lottery is also a major supporter of the New York State Empire Games, the largest state-run amateur athletic competition in the country. According to the State Education Department, the New York Lottery has raised $29 billion for schools since 1967.

More than $3.8 billion, or about 56 percent of revenues last year goes to prizes. Commissions for traditional lottery facilities take about 6 percent, with roughly another 6 percent going to video gaming facilities, contractor fees, and various operating costs, according to the lottery’s 2005-06 fiscal year allocations.

In the 2004-05 fiscal year, the New York Lottery reported giving $4.2 million to the Guilderland Central School District; $1.5 million to the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District; and $908,000 to the Voorheesville Central School District. The lottery revenue is distributed each year from a dedicated lottery fund held by the state comptroller.

"It’s determined by the New York State Legislature," Mauer told The Enterprise. "We raise the money and the comptroller actually distributes it, but the legislature comes up with the formula."

The formula is included with the annual budget.

Last month, the New York Lottery announced that, for the first time in its history, it had awarded checks to over 90 new millionaires in less than one year.

It is the largest lottery in the nation and the sixth-largest in the world, according to McLaughlin.

Where the money comes from

The big money-makers are the scratch-offs.

"Half of the income is in the instant games," said McLaughlin. "About $3 billion a year come from them."

The lottery is betting on even more revenue coming in from video lottery terminals (V.L.T.’s) from race tracks and other video lottery facilities around the state. Currently, there are eight facilities in New York.

In Yonkers alone, at its Empire City facility, V.L.T.’s brought in $300 million in net revenues for education, and its revenues are expected to more than double to $700 million this year with 5,500 video machines, according to McLaughlin.

When it comes to curbing gambling addiction, McLaughlin said the New York Lottery takes the problem seriously and requires all of the V.L.T. operators to post gambling problem signs at their venues.

"We always put out messages to play responsibly," said McLaughlin.

"We provide training for all of our employees on spotting problem gambling," he said. "We suggest that they send those individuals to our 1-800 gambling hotline for additional help."

Mauer told The Enterprise that messages on gambling and the Lotto’s hotline number are printed on all points of sales throughout the state and the lottery works with the state’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and the New York Council on Problem Gambling.

The hotline number is 1-800-437-1611 and the New York Lottery headquarters are in Schenectady.

"Lottery Central"

"The Lottery is very happy to be in downtown Schenectady," McLaughlin said, calling the location, "Lottery Central."

McLaughlin has worked for the New York Lottery for the past three years as the former deputy director and he has also worked as its general counsel. He has served, too, as the senior vice president and general counsel for the State Environmental Facilities Corporation.

"While I worked for the environmental facilities corporation, I actually worked on a lot of water and sewer bonds for various water and sewer projects in the Guilderland area," McLaughlin said.

Before his career in public service, McLaughlin was the first vice president and counsel to the former Greater New York Savings Bank in Brooklyn and was also previously a partner of the law firm Pieper Hoban & Royce, P.C. in Mineola, N.Y. He received his law degree in 1986 and his bachelor’s of science degree in 1983 — both from St. John’s University.

McLaughlin has been a lawyer for the past 20 years and lives in Guilderland with his wife and three children.

"This is all very exciting and I am looking forward to the challenge," said McLaughlin of his post. "The income for education is growing at just an incredible rate."

Burnell gets life
Max sentence after lengthy investigation

By Jarrett Carroll

ALBANY — After a lengthy murder investigation, a mistrial, and much debate over controversial fingerprint evidence, Hashim Burnell is going to jail for the rest of his life.

Burnell, 21, got the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole for shooting Todd Pianowski to death in his Guilderland apartment. And he was sentenced to another 25 years for robbing Pianowski’s girlfriend, Lauren Parker, at gunpoint.

Burnell’s original trial was declared a mistrial after fingerprint evidence was entered four days into the trail and well over a year after the prints were taken from the murder scene.

The sentence was handed down by Albany County Judge Stephen W. Herrick yesterday after nearly two years of investigation and trials.

Burnell was convicted last month of shooting Pianowski through the heart and then in the back of the head as Pianowski struggled to push himself up off of the floor at his 1700 Designer Apartments home off of Western Avenue.

He is convicted of one count of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree robbery.

Prosecutors at his trial painted Burnell as a drug-dealing felon who was in desperate need of cash and saw Pianoswki as an easy target. The defense maintained Burnell’s innocence and said police had the wrong man.

Burnell and Pianowski knew each other through Guilderland High School and from small-time drug deals, trial testimony showed.

Guilderland Police and State Police handled the investigation, arresting Burnell on May 5, 2005, the same day as the murder. Guilderland Police Chief James Murley said yesterday that his department had handled a dozen or so murder cases since its inception in 1971.

The assistant district attorney for Albany County who handled the case, Bruce Lennard, told reporters yesterday that this was a "senseless killing," and that Burnell "decided to cash in on Todd Pianowski’s life," even though family and friends could have given him money.

Victims speak

Victims gave emotional statements at the somber Albany County courtroom prior to the sentencing, giving closure to one family while the other maintained their son’s innocence, saying there is no definitive evidence.

"My son was gruesomely murdered"Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of it," said Ron Pianowski, the dead man’s father. "What do I do with the objects and pictures that I’ve saved from the past""

Pianowski described his son to the court as a "kind and gentle man," who devoutly loved his girlfriend, Parker, and had a long and ambitious future ahead of him.

"Todd’s death will surely save other lives and their family and friends the grief and sorrow me and my friends have endured and will continue to endure for the rest of our lives," said Pianowski, as he thanked the court for taking "a murderer off the streets. His wife, Pam, also thanked the court.

"Todd, God be with you," said Ron Pianowski.

A teary-eyed, yet stoic Lauren Parker, Pianowski’s girlfriend, followed with her statement to the court.

"May 5, 2005 should have been a good day for Todd and I"but, in actuality, it turned out to be the worst day of my life," said Parker. "I had to come face to face with a monster"Even when I see someone who looks like you, I cringe," she told Burnell. "I can’t be the first one to walk into a room anymore."

Continuing, as more tears came, Parker looked at Burnell, who stood silently in his orange jumpsuit, his face expressionless and his hands manacled.

"Todd was loving and giving"When Todd put his mind to something, he always got it done," Parker said. "Todd should have been my husband and the father to my children, and I hate you for that."

Parker described how, on May 5, she walked into the apartment she shared with Pianowski, and Burnell was there, standing over her boyfriend’s prone body; then he turned his gun on her, saying, "If you move too fast or if you scream, I’ll kill you." She says she was then taken by gunpoint down the hall and down an elevator before Burnell ran out another door and drove away.

"You took away my boyfriend, my soul mate, and my best friend," Parker said in her statement. "I hope when you’re in prison, it haunts you every day, knowing you’re a monster.

"I don’t know why you thought you would get away with it"All I can picture is Todd laying there dead on the floor," Parker told Burnell. "I just wish I could see Todd, I wish I could touch him"I hope you suffer alone and die alone."

The sentence

Judge Herrick showed no leniency and gave Burnell, according to district attorney’s office, one of the stiffest penalties in Albany County’s history.

Assistant District Attorney Lennard asked Judge Herrick for " nothing less than life without the possibility of parole," plus an additional 25 years for the armed robbery.

"He did not have to do this thing," Lennard told Herrick before the sentencing, describing the "ruthlessness, viciousness, and senselessness" of the murder. Lennard maintained that, although Burnell owed money to several individuals, including his landlord the day of the murder, he had other avenues besides murdering Pianowski.

Burnell’s court-appointed lawyer, Paul Edwards, pleaded with the court for leniency based on Burnell’s youth.

"This man that stands before you is 21; he was 19 when the murder occurred," Edwards told Judge Herrick. "Based on his youth, the court has a wide range of options"I would ask the court for a possibility of parole."

Edwards gave statistics to the court prior to the sentencing which cited a dramatic drop in convicted felons recommitting crimes as they get older in life. Judge Herrick acknowledged receiving those documents.

Burnell addressed the court briefly before he was sentenced.

When asked if he had a statement, Burnell appeared to be almost speechless at first, saying, "Umm," before coming out and saying that he felt sorry for the Pianowski family, and that he "couldn’t stop what happened to their son."

He maintained his innocence to Judge Herrick saying, "I didn’t do it," and, referring to the two families in the courtroom, he said, "God bless them, and God bless my family."

Herrick was not swayed.

"Mr. Burnell, I did give this sentencing today a great deal of thought. I have struggled with this decision," the judge told Burnell. "I don’t believe what you just said."

Continuing, Herrick told Burnell that he went to that apartment on May 5 and that he went inside with a handgun with the intention of robbing it.

"You killed him coldly in order to eliminate the possibility to identify you," Herrick said of Pianowski’s death, calling it a vicious murder.

"I don’t know why you spared her life"," Herrick said of Parker’s walking into the murder scene. "You let her go, thank God you did."

Herrick reminded Burnell that he was on parole when he committed this violent felony, and that he was given multiple opportunities to take responsibility for his actions.

Guilderland Police said yesterday that Burnell was on parole for three counts of residential burglary in the Guilderland area when Pianowski was killed.

One of the neighbors that Burnell robbed on Benjamin Street, Mary Bailey, told The Enterprise that Burnell has a "quite a history" of stealing in the area, including cars and money.

The Bailey’s said despite Burnell’s stealing, he had a very "charming personality."

"You were convicted of murder in the first degree"and three counts of robbery. Mr. Edwards said you should receive a sentence with a possibility for parole," Judge Herrick told Burnell. "I don’t want you to be eligible to be released even if it’s only a 25-percent chance to commit again.

"I believe that you are totally without remorse and a threat to society, and should never be released back into society again," Herrick concluded before sentencing Burnell to life in prison without parole.

As Herrick read Burnell’s sentence, a definitive, "Yes!" was heard on the Pianowskis side of the courtroom, while many members sitting on the Burnell side simply dropped their heads in disbelief.

Burnell was also sentenced to pay the court restitution in the sum of $270 and $50 for a DNA database fee. Herrick said orders of protection would be issued if deemed necessary as well.

"I now release you to the custody of the Albany County Sheriff’s," Herrick told Burnell as he was taken away.

The reaction

A young boy ran out of the courtroom, crying after the sentence was given.

"Don’t cry, Elijah," Laverne Burnell, Hashim’s mother, called to the boy after he left.

As Burnell walked past his family in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, Laverne Burnell also called out to her son, "I love you, son. I love you, and I believe in you."

Once outside of the courtroom, Burnell’s mother and grandmother, Annie Burnell, defiantly told reporters that Burnell was completely innocent and they plan on appealing the verdict.

"It could’ve been anyone that did that," Laverne Burnell said hysterically, through tears. "There was a large quantity of drugs found in that apartment"Everyone was involved in some kind of drugs."

Annie Burnell agreed.

"Why wasn’t she arrested"" Annie Burnell asked of Parker’s involvement with drug-dealing in her apartment. "Todd Pianowski was not a murderer and neither is Hashim Burnell."

The two women tearfully appealed to reporters and news cameramen, saying there was no hard evidence linking Burnell to the murder.

"The cops are buying children and paying them to rat on each other," Laverne Burnell said, instead of taking the drugs off the streets, she contended. "Do you know how they identified my son" With a sneaker, not a face."

The shoe, which had "floppy straps" instead of laces, was a key piece of evidence gathered from the surveillance videos at both a local bank and the apartment complex the day of the murder.

Lennard told jurors during the trial that, even though a clear face could not be made out on the video tape, Burnell’s sneakers were clearly identified in both the bank and at the murder scene on May 5, 2005.

The defense contended that many young men wear their sneakers unstrapped.

Both Burnell’s mother and grandmother say, even though it will cost a lot of money, they will move forward with an appeal.

The district attorney’s office is hailing the sentence as a victory and said Lennard did "an exceptional job prosecuting this case on behalf of the people of Albany County." The office also said that it hopes the sentence will deter youth in future from engaging in violent acts.

The Pianowski and Parker families did not wish to speak with the media following the sentencing, but Lennard spoke with reporters on their behalf.

"This case is, of course, a tragedy for both families," Lennard said. "It was a senseless killing"He effectively executed Todd Pianowski for a robbery that was not even necessary," he said of Burnell.

Lennard said that circles of friends that sell only marijuana may be nice people, but, those circles can overlap into other circles with some not-so-nice people.

"The worst thing that could have possibly happened, did," said Lennard of the murder. "He went there with a .40 caliber and he shot that boy in the heart and in the head"It’s a tragedy on any number of levels."

Lennard called Burnell’s sentence "entirely appropriate."

Guilderland Police also say justice has been served.

"I think the jury’s verdict speaks volumes to the investigation done by this department," Police Chief Murley told The Enterprise yesterday. "We’ve concentrated on the quality of the investigation."

Murley described the murder as a "tragedy all the way around" but stated, that the "jury has spoken.

"Two young people’s lives are gone," he added. "One man is dead and the other is serving for life."

After 65 years, depot tower dismantled

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The old depot water tower is no more.

The tower was dismantled and removed last week because it wasn’t worth repairing and didn’t work well with the town’s current water system, said William West, Guilderland’s superintendent for water and wastewater management.

The tower, with a half-million-gallon tank, was erected when the Army depot was built in 1941, West said. In the 1960’s, when the Army was scaling back its depots during the Cold War, it offered land at Guilderland Center first to the federal government, then to the state, and finally to the town, said West.

"We own parcels in the park," West said. This includes the land where the tower stood, as well as a section of the building with a treatment plant, a pump station, and land for training firefighters.

"The town didn’t want to be a landlord," he said. "The rest was turned over to private concerns, so taxes would be paid on it."

The Northeastern Industrial Park now occupies most of the land that once belonged to the Army.

The depot water tank was first used to supplement the Westmere Water District. It was kept in service until 2002, West said.

The town currently has three tanks — elevated tanks at Fort Hunter and Westmere, and a tank on the ground off Relyea Road. The on-the-ground tank sits on a knob, said West, so it is at the same level as the tanks that are supported by legs. When the Relyea tank was completed in 2002, the depot tank went off line, said West.

West explained the several functions served by water tanks. The tanks hold enough water to cover average use for 24 hours, which allows for repairs. They provide fire protection, and they provide pressure. The water in the tanks has to be changed every 24 to 36 hours, said West, to avoid creating "a biological hazard."

"The other tanks all draw together." Referring to just the depot tank, he went on, "The other tanks would have to get half empty for this one to drain."

A diver went inside the Westmere and depot tanks, said West, and determined the Westmere tank needed to be repainted, which was done. The depot tank needed painting, too, but it would have been far more costly, he said. "Lead paint was used, so there were environmental issues. The legs would have to be sandblasted."

West estimated the repairs would have cost $1 million.

"It would be cheaper to build a new tank, but we don’t need a new tank," said West. "We have a new tank at the right elevation."

The depot tank was removed by All Industrial Service, an Ohio-based company, and the lowest bidder for the job. It cost $31,868 to have the tank dismantled and removed. "They get to keep the steel," said West. It was the 130th tank All Industrial had removed, he said.

"It’s a piece of history," West said. "One resident said she’ll miss it."

Jane Dwyer, who has lived on Depot Road since 1955, told The Enterprise she would look out her bedroom window at it every morning. She particularly enjoyed seeing what slogans the senior class from nearby Guilderland High School would paint on the tower each year.

"I feel lonesome without it," Dwyer said this week.

The buzz
Beckmann stung with beekeeping bug

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Ten-year-old Ben Beckmann says he’s not afraid of bees. And that’s a good thing since he’s about to become a beekeeper.

The Southern Adirondack Beekeepers Association is giving Beckman the $450 worth of equipment he needs to start the hobby, including a hive, bees, protective gear, training, and more.

He earned the 2006 Wolf/Lounsbury Youth Beekeeper Award by writing a winning essay on why he wants to be a beekeeper.

"We want to get young people into beekeeping," said Anne Frey, president of the Ballston Spa-based group. "Quite often, the cost would stop them."

She went on, "It’s a hobby that has lots of adults in it. It involves a lot of heavy lifting," she said, so the ranks are thinning. "When a young person gets into it, their family gets involved, too, and it keeps it alive."

This is the third year for the contest and Beckmann is the fourth winner; last year, two winners were chosen.

Frey herself has been a beekeeper since 1989.

"I’m addicted to it. They’re just really cool," she said of bees.

Beckmann shares her enthusiasm. "I like animals and I like to garden," said the Lynnwood Elementary School fifth-grader. "The bees will pollinate the stuff in your garden."

Beckmann gardens on his family’s five acres on West Old State Road in Guilderland.

He’s wanted to be a beekeeper since the first time he went to the Saratoga County Fair when he was 6 years old and saw a hive there.

He then learned more about bees at the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center on Thompsons Lake.

"When a new bee comes out of the hive, about five other ones clean it and help it," he said. "I saw that myself."

He concluded, "I like how the bees work together and stuff."

But doesn’t he worry about getting stung"

Heck no.

"I was stung right in the hand by a hornet," said Beckmann. "And I was stung in the foot by a bumblebee and by a dying hornet. I’m not scared of ’em."

Beckmann will receive his equipment and award at the association’s Nov. 20 meeting, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Cornell Cooperative Extension offices at 50 West High Street in Ballston Spa.

"Everyone’s welcome," said Frey. "They don’t have to be a member. They can just come to learn about beekeeping."

"Challenging and very rewarding"
School super gets raise, earns $150K

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — By unanimous vote, the school board on Tuesday gave the district’s superintendent a 4.25-percent raise, boosting his salary to $150,000.

The raise was the only change in his three-year contract, which runs now for another two years, expiring in 2008.

Superintendent Gregory Aidala works 12 months a year, and the new salary runs from Nov. 13, 2006 to Nov. 12, 2007.

"I don’t know if you want to talk about yourself," said board President Richard Weisz after the motion passed.

"Happy to be here," responded Aidala.

"Did he mean that in the metaphysical sense"" asked board member Peter Golden.

"In all aspects," said Aidala.

Aidala became Guilderland’s superintendent six years ago after a dozen years as superintendent at a smaller district.

He told The Enterprise earlier that he sees his role as, first, a leader; second, a problem-solver; and, third, a facilitator, "to move things along."

"I’m not in the trenches day in and day out," he said. "My role is to keep the ball moving forward."

Aidala told The Enterprise after Tuesday’s meeting, "I’m very appreciative of the board’s recommendation of my work. I continue to find my position very challenging and very rewarding." He concluded, "I enjoy being superintendent of schools very much."

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the school board:

— Approved a bid from Parks Chevrolet for a maintenance plow truck for $57,920.17, the lowest of three bids.

Funds for the purchase were included in the $828,200 bus and equipment proposition passed by voters in May.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders explained that the plow truck is costing more than anticipated because it was not available through state contract. Also, new emission requirements added $7,000 or $8,000 to the cost, he said.

It is replacing a 19-year-old truck;

— Upgraded Susan Tangorre’s title from administrator to assistant superintendent for human resources. Her salary will remain the same. She has filled the post since December of 2005.

"This is an opportunity to recognize the outstanding work of Susan Tangorre who serves in this important position," said Aidala.

An educator for over 35 years, Tangorre came to Guilderland in 1993 as an assistant elementary principal. She then served as a house principal at the middle school for three years and then as principal of Altamont Elementary for seven years;

— Accepted delinquent tax rolls from Guilderland (roughly $1.29 million) from Bethlehem (roughly $29,000), from Knox (roughly $5,000) and from New Scotland (roughly $9,000) for a total of about $1.33 million.

The delinquent tax rolls will be turned over to Albany County, which will reimburse the school district by April 1, whether or not the taxes are collected, said Sanders.

The board also accepted the 2006-07 composite tax collection report with a total levy of about $51 million;

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that five Guilderland High School students — Stephen Lovely, Diana Moore, Jack Qian, Beth Schaffer, and Peter Zhu — were recognized by the 2007 National Merit Scholarship program as semi-finalists in a field of 16,000 students. Finalists will be announced in February.

The following Guilderland students were recognized as commended students: Lucas Ackerman, Andrey Belostotsky, Claire Cooper, Luke Diamente, Laura Doak, Robert Dygert, Laura Kim, Geneva Kraus, Emily Kurzon, Stephanie Li, Miles Malerba, Damian Miraglia, Elena Murray, Nathan Rich, Andy Rosenbaum, Christopher Schwartz, Zachary Tolmie, and Lydia Walrath;

— Heard that Farnsworth Middle School students participated in the fourth annual Bus Buddy program on Oct. 26, which, Andress said, builds "a stronger, more respectful relationship between the school and the bus."

Bus discipline referrals in the past two years have been reduced from 99 to 77;

— Heard that Friday, Dec. 22, will be the second annual Diversity Celebration at Farnsworth’s Seneca House;

— Learned that Andress is on the Tech Valley High School Advisory Team, which is designing, developing, and coordinating all the processes involved in creating the curricula for the regional high school, due to open in September of 2007.

Andress is chairing a subcommittee on content and outcomes. The new school will start with 30 ninth-graders from the Capital Region BOCES and the Questar BOCES.

"The people sitting around the table are from industry," said Andress, calling the new school "a very unique enterprise";

— Heard reports from three board members — Vice President John Dornbush, Barbara Fraterrigo, and Thomas Nachod — about the New York State School Boards Association Conference they recently attended.

Each described it as "fascinating" as they highlighted what they had learned on subjects including board governance, keeping confidences in executive sessions, school safety, a certified high-school technology program, competing with students in other countries, strategies in reading, and pandemic flu preparation.

"You no longer teach children to sneeze into their hand; that spreads flu," said Fraterrigo. "You sneeze into the crook of your arm";

— Appointed three secondary teachers, who had started work mid-year, to tenure — social studies teacher Lisa Bedian, and foreign language teachers Frances Gorka and Rita Palma.

"We always say that tenure is a beginning, not an end," said Aidala, noting the trio were "off to an auspicious start."

They will be honored with the bulk of the tenured teachers at a ceremony on April 17, 2007;

— Heard from Barbara Fraterrigo, who chairs the board’s policy committee, about four updated policies, which the board will vote on at its next meeting.

The policy on equal educational opportunities Fraterrigo described as "cut and dried." It hasn’t been revised since 1981 and states that educational programs and services will be designed to meet the needs of all students and shall not discriminate based on race, color, creed, sex, national origin, religion, age, economic status, or disability.

The policy on entrance age says children who reach their fifth birthday on or before Dec. 1 of the year of matriculation are entitled to attend school and may be admitted to kindergarten. "Kindergarten is optional"but I know of no school that doesn’t offer kindergarten," said Aidala.

The food-service management policy, which has "been on the books a long time," said Fraterrigo, was updated to incorporate the district’s new wellness policy. It says, "The district’s food services program shall be regarded as an integral component of its total educational program"designed to improve children’s food habits, with an ultimate goal of students becoming nutritionally physically fit adults."

Finally, the policy on free and reduced-price food services was "updated with new information," said Fraterrigo. It says that the school board "recognizes that the nutrition of district students is an important factor in their educational progress" and outlines participation in the federally-funded school lunch program;

— Heard from Golden that the board’s business practices committee, which he chairs, in its "never-ending quest to annoy as many vendors as possible" is looking at how to get medical insurance for less.

The committee has also discussed what the district should do with the approximately $1 million in surplus over the amount the state allows a district to keep in its fund balance.

"You never know when the emergency could arise," said Aidala, adding that the plan will be publicized and discussed with the full board after Jan. 1.

"Some will go back to the taxpayers; that’s our thinking now," said Golden;

— Heard from Cathy Barber that the communications committee, which she chairs, is focusing on community outreach.

Aidala and Weisz spoke to the McKownville Neighborhood Association and an invitation has been extended by the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce.

As discussed earlier, board members are considering having "coffee klatches," where pairs of board members would talk with customers at local eateries.

Suggestions for naming the sessions included, "Pulse on Education, Tell Us what You Think," and "Common Grounds, Coffee Talk on Education."

The committee is looking for other suggestions.

"Something that rhymes," suggested Golden.

"Bring them on," said Barber;

— Heard a concern from board member Colleen O’Connell, raised at a high school PTSA meeting, about the cost of workbooks for Regents exams. O’Connell said she had mixed feelings about whether the workbooks, which are now purchased by the students, should be paid for by the district.

The books cost roughly $10 each, said Aidala, and the total annual cost would be $40,000 to $50,000.

This year, the PTSA has set aside $1,000 to pay for the books for students who can’t afford them, said O’Connell;

— Authorized Aidala to enter into an agreement, as reviewed in executive session on Oct. 10, to resolve outstanding issues with an unnamed student.

Aidala told The Enterprise afterwards that the issues had to do with a "special-education placement"; and

— Met in executive session on Nov. 14 for an update on negotiations, and to discuss administrative personnel reviews, an amendment to the superintendent’s contract, and a student issue.

Aidala told The Enterprise yesterday that no motions were made after the closed session.

Mill Hollow moves closer to construction

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Developer Jeff Thomas’s senior-housing complex, proposed for the site of the old Bavarian Chalet, is one step closer to being built.

The planning board here last week approved the site plan review for Mill Hollow, for which Thomas had requested a special-use permit. Thomas is on the way to building 86 condominium units for seniors at the site of the former Bavarian Chalet at Frenchs Mill Road.

While board members worried about old-growth trees and the materials used to create pedestrian paths through the community, they praised the plan, presented by engineer Francis Bossolini.

"You did a nice job on this. Very nice," said board member Paul Caputo.

Thomas is excited about the plans as well. "It’s a great design. It has a village feel," he told The Enterprise this week. It is one of three area senior complexes he is planning; the others are in Berne and just outside of Altamont.

Thomas explained the name of the complex, Mill Hollow. There was once a mill at the site, he said, and, he went on, "There’s a beautiful hollow in the 60 percent green space we’re maintaining."

Asked about his timetable for completing the project, Thomas said, "Our engineering’s complete and we expect approval in the next month." He said he hopes to begin construction within the next year.

At last week’s meeting, Bossolini said that a pump station would be placed at the lowest point of the parcel, and that flow meters will be installed to gather further information for more engineering.

He said that the trees the board referred to are not "old growth" because they were planted in a straight line.

"A handful, perhaps, can be saved. Disturbed areas are going to be restored," Bossolini said.

The senior homes will be 1,200 square-foot two-bedroom condominiums on one floor, stacked above one another. Some will have garages attached under, he said. Including more than 80 garages, the community will have almost 170 parking spaces, he said. Chairman Stephen Feeney said that parking spaces planned for the front of the subdivision must be removed.

Sidewalk plans were not ready for the planning board, but were to be displayed at a town meeting this week, Bossolini said.

The senior center and the community center will be housed together in the current structure on the parcel.

"The association will own the building, and some kind of agreement with the town" will be arranged for town use, Bossolini said. Earlier, the town requested a 4,000-square-foot senior center on the site as a condition of approval.

Site plan approval was conditional on the submission of a landscaping plan showing the sizes and types of plants proposed, and the preservation of as many old-growth trees along the eastern side of the site. The plan must show which of the trees will be preserved.

The plan must also show the limits of the disturbance to wetlands and the amount of land affected. Feeney said that, if the disturbance is greater than .10 acre, the developer must notify the Army Corps of Engineers. Feeney said that, in that case, the zoning board is advised to wait for a response from the Army Corps before deciding on the Mill Hollow application.

The plan should also show pedestrian access to the neighboring Twenty West subdivision, and the access to the pump station and along that route. That access to the community may also be used for emergency vehicles to reach the adjoining subdivision, town planner Jan Weston said.

The board said that the sidewalk plan should show, minimally, paths around the parking-lot perimeter and the condo units, with a direct connection between the senior parking lot and the seniors’ community center within the site.

The board said that the garbage Dumpster must be moved from its proposed northeastern position. The plan should provide a better buffer between the Dumpster and the single-family homes slated to be constructed to the east, Weston said.

The development must also receive a state Department of Transportation permit for sidewalks in the DOT right-of-way.

Romano requests

Attorney Timothy Elliott represented applicant Lisa Romano for two projects; one would allow her parcel on Western Turnpike to be subdivided, and the other would enable her to open a business out of a basement at 1847 Western Ave. Both applications were continued.

The plans submitted for the subdivision called for a four-lot division of 14.83 acres near the Watervliet Reservoir. The area is zoned for agriculture, with a minimum three-acre lot. Romano’s plans divided the existing home on the property onto a 4.46-acre parcel, and left the others varying at slightly over 3 acres each. The majority of the parcels proposed would not allow 500-foot setbacks from the reservoir, as town standards dictate. Elliott said that the plans were designed to meet state Health Department regulations, which require 300-foot setbacks.

Portions of the proposed parcels left keyhole sections, that could not be included in the setback calculations, Feeney said.

"There is room in our code to allow some of these issues to go away, and still give you your three lots," Feeney said.

Weston said that three lots could be clustered on smaller parcels to leave a larger, undisturbed area nearer the reservoir.

Future plans should show limits of grading and clearing, a storm-water pollution prevention plan, and the possible locations of wells, the board said.

The second Romano application was for a mortgage-consulting business in an area zoned for mixed use. The site would allow a tenant in an upstairs apartment, with the business on the first floor. The site has a garage and a long driveway that can hold up to six cars, but there is no access to the rear alley, Elliott said.

Board member Michael Cleary said that the application would be better if it showed three usable spaces, rather than six that are difficult. Weston said that the driveway would stack cars bumper-to-bumper, and require drivers to back out onto busy Western Avenue.

The plan called for a turn-around in the front of the building, but the board asked that a revised plan remove the turn-around and include the possibility of a connection to the alleyway that feeds onto York Road. The drive could then be one-way in.

To accommodate the drive, the board recommended that the garage be razed, but Elliott said, "The garage does have value to it."

"We don’t want cars stacked," Feeney said. "We don’t want cars parking on the sidewalk. Mixed use is a good idea — something we would encourage."

The board said that parking for five vehicles should be provided at the rear of the property.

Elliott requested that the board continue the site plan review until he returns with a professionally-drawn plan.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Approved Richard Capron’s concept presentation of a three-lot subdivision of more than 50 acres on Curry Road. There is no public water or sewer on any of the lots, but one lot has a log home where Capron lives, and another has a small home.

"It’s all one farm. We have horses there," Capron said.

A portion of the property is bounded by the Albany Pine Bush, and the Pine Bush Preserve Commission is negotiating with Capron about accepting or purchasing one of the three lots, he said. The property is in an area designated for full protection by the commission.

Altamont gains Prestige

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Maple Avenue is home to Altamont’s newest business.

Last week the DeSarbos opened Prestige Photo in the building that was last occupied by Ecco Video. The family closed shop at the original location, in Delmar, and opened up in the village. "We wanted to be able to offer the Hilltowns, Altamont, and the Schoharie area a place to get portraits done and digital processing taken care of," said Paul DeSarbo.

DeSarbo opened the shop for his daughter, Heather. "It’s basically Heather’s," he said. "It’s just kind of fun to keep my hand in it."

Prestige Photo offers portraiture, photo processing, a new and used camera shop, and wedding photography. "Everything in photography, we do," DeSarbo said.

Since the shop will primarily be Heather’s domain, DeSarbo has been getting into some other photography-related things. The former village mayor is planning a photography museum for the Altamont Fair that will feature old cameras and equipment as well as new. "So the kids can see from beginning to present what’s going on in photography," DeSarbo said.

The fair is familiar territory for the family; Heather was crowned Ms. Altamont Fair at the August pageant this year.

"I’m going to offer any family who wants their picture taken in front of the gazebo — free," said DeSarbo. He pointed to a photo he had taken in front of the gazebo in Orsini park during the Victorian Holiday celebration, saying that families might like to have a photo taken with the quaint backdrop.

Prestige Photo deals with both film and digital photography, DeSarbo said. It still carries 35-millimeter cameras as well as the paper and chemicals for developing. Of Heather, he said, "She’s our master on the digital. She’s something else." A summa cum laude graduate of Sage College, she studied photography and criminal justice.

"She really knows what she’s doing," said DeSarbo of his daughter. "She’s got her mother’s eye for art."

"Everything I know, he’s taught me," Heather DeSarbo said.

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