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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, March 8, 2007

Cass used for training now

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — In the midst of widespread resentment toward a juvenile detention center in town, Cass Residential’s future remains uncertain.

The all-male juvenile detention center was converted last week to a facility to train new state employees.

Locals were pleased, but, once told youths may return to the facility, state and town officials, unions, and area residents continue to speculate about the state’s Office of Children and Family Service’s long-range plans.

State Senator Neil Breslin said yesterday he is trying to set up a meeting with Cass officials.

Breslin attended the February Rensselaerville town board meeting where Cass officials said a perimeter fence would be built and an emergency notification system would be installed to call residents in case of escapes.

"We want them to be more open and direct about their decisions," said Breslin. He added, "Rensselaerville residents deserve that. They don’t deserve to be misled."

Yesterday, Darcy Wells, spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation, said that changing the facility from a juvenile-detention center to a training center violates a labor law enacted last year, which requires the state agency to give a 12-month notice. The law requires OCFS to give a year’s notice when making significant changes in its services or when making public employee staffing changes.

"The majority of staff at Cass will be retained on site to staff the training academy," OCFS spokesman Brian Marchetti said Tuesday, adding, "Remaining staff will be canvassed for voluntary redeployments."

Darcy responded by saying that converting the facility from a juvenile detention center to a training center is "a significant change."

"The reasons for the decision [to change] included the need for another training site," Marchetti said, adding, "We currently have an excess bed count in our facilities. As well as the savings that can be achieved by not putting up the fence."

Asked if the 200 new employees are needed in response to a projected increase of delinquent youths, Marchetti responded, "Youths are remanded to our care by the family courts"We don’t control the number of youths coming in."

Nearly 500 local residents signed a petition calling for Cass to close, and Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, an Albany County legislator, on behalf of the kitchen worker who was raped at the facility in December of 2004, read and presented it to the Rensselaerville Town Board in January.

Residents responded to the plans of a perimeter fence, saying it could result in more violent offenders being placed at the center. Residents also questioned the cost to taxpayers for raising the 16-foot tall fence.

The facility, classified as non-secure, had already undergone security improvements, which included added cameras and locks, Cass officials said last month.

The detention facility was vacated at the end of January after a petition signed by nearly 500 locals called for it to close, and no youths have returned since, according to Marchetti.

"At this time, no children will be placed at Cass," he said Tuesday.

"No master plan"

State Assemblyman John McEneny, who represents the Hilltown area, told The Enterprise yesterday that he received a call from Cass a week ago.

"No long-term decision has been made," he said, adding that there aren’t yet any guarantees on whether Cass will go back to its past use, stay a training facility, or proceed with plans to erect a fence. "No fence is going up right now," he said. Cass officials, he said, told him that no kids were at the facility.

Breslin told The Enterprise yesterday that he originally heard that Cass Residential would be a training center, then heard that its use as a training site might be on a temporary basis.

Last month, prior to OCFS Deputy Director Ed Ausborn and Cass’s director, Tim Kelso, attending Rensselaerville’s February town board meeting, McEneny said he was unsure about Cass’s future. He attended a meeting where the new governor rolled out his budget, which called for cuts in prison facilities. Shortly after, he said, Cass residents were removed.
"I’m wondering if the state is thinking about phasing it out totally," he said of Cass a month ago.

McEneny cited Eliot Spitzer again yesterday.

"We have a new governor and a new administration".I think we can take them at their word that they don’t have a master plan yet," he said.

"If we saw them putting up a fence, we’d know," he said, adding, "I think [Cass] is what they said — a temporary training facility."


Following the announcement last week that Cass would be a training center, residents "breathed a collective sigh of relief," said Rensselaerville Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg on Tuesday.

Bob Tomczak, who lives near Cass, said he was "elated," "relieved," and "surprised."

"Something set a fire under them," he said Tuesday, adding that he doesn’t know why the center’s mission was changed. "They’re so close-mouthed and bureaucratic. They hold back a tremendous amount of information."

Tomczak called Cass Residential "a poor neighbor" and "a poor public servant."

"I’m glad they shut it, but I’m not going to hold my breath," he said Tuesday, adding that OCFS "did an about-face" when its officials said they would erect a fence and then changed their minds.

"You could see the smiles," Supervisor Nickelsberg said of town residents when they heard the youth detention center had been converted to a training facility.

Nickelsberg said Tuesday he thought the decision was "a win for everybody" — for the people in town, especially those who were assaulted, for the significant number of townspeople who were nervous, for the kids at Cass, for the employees at Cass Residential, and for the state’s taxpayers.

"If they don’t give up, and they stay on something, there’s nothing the citizens can’t do," Nickelsberg said, adding that the government belongs to the people.

From an economic perspective, he said, it showed how a bunch of people can win.

"I’m really happy," he said Tuesday of Cass changing to a training facility, calling it "the best possible conclusion."

Yesterday, Nickelsberg chronicled the community’s experience, saying that two years ago, when a kitchen worker at the facility was raped, the community was outraged. For two years, he said, the people ignored what had happened. The escape of a youth from the facility in November, he said "really woke things up."

"People turned passionate," he said. The townspeople, he said, then came to the conclusion that the center should be closed.

"We’re determined," Nickelsberg said. "This is not a cost-effective, good place for a prison," he said. The town, he said, is "completely united." The town is not unified on many issues, he said, but, "This is one of the things that unites us."

BKW plans school renovation

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District is gearing up for a full vote on renovating its secondary school with plans that could cost taxpayers anywhere from $2.3 million to $3.7 million.

Plans for renovations, driven by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, were first visited in December with architect Karl Griffith of Cataldo, Waters and Griffith presenting a $13.8 million plan.

This week, Superintendent Steven Schrade ran through three options for renovations and called the initial $13.8 million plan, which includes a new gymnasium and converts the existing gym into two levels, the most "grandiose" of the three options. It would include a cafeteria, kitchen, and weight room on the first floor; and a library, library classroom, and art room on the second floor.

More space would be added for classrooms, said Schrade.

The district share for the plan, he said, estimated at $4.9 million, would be lowered to $3.7 million by using the entire $900,000 in the district’s capital reserve fund and $340,000 in the state’s EXCEL (Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning) aid.

Another option, estimated at $16.1 million, Schrade said, includes moving the sixth grade out of the secondary school and adding four classrooms to the elementary school. The local cost, after using all in the capital reserve fund and EXCEL aid, would amount to $3.4 million.

The third option, which Schrade called "scaled down," is estimated at $12.3 million, and would include remodeling the gymnasium and putting new locker rooms accessible to those with handicaps behind the gym. The local cost would be $2.3 million.

No additional classroom space would be added, said Schrade.

Vice President Edward Ackroyd asked what the estimated impact per $1,000 of assessed valuation would be for each of the options.

Schrade called the figures "rough," adding that in the first year, there would be a tax impact, but there’s usually no additional impact in following years.

"We wouldn’t recommend a vote until the fall," he said.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

— Voted unanimously to permit students who live outside the district to re-enroll each year;

— Heard from David Weiser, the district’s business administrator, that a unified fleet would be more cost-efficient and would save mechanics time. Many vehicles, he said, now require special tools. Weiser recommended bidding with other districts; if another district withdraws its bid, the district’s bid would not be affected, he said.

The board approved a "standardizing resolution," which holds the district harmless if it rejects a bus bid on the basis that the bidder was not submitting a bid for, specifically, a Chevy Suburban, but offered a comparable model and turned out to be the low bidder, Schrade told The Enterprise. BOCES suggested BKW adopt the resolution. The School Board did not authorize the collective bidding procedure for Suburbans, but will probably do so at its next meeting, Schrade told The Enterprise, adding that the district would bid through a BOCES consortium;

— Heard that there will be two informational sessions for parents of 10th-graders to meet with school counselors and discuss their child’s transcripts and graduation requirements. The sessions will be held in the high school library on March 12 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. and on March 19 from 6 to 7 p.m.;

— Decided to honor the bowling team in the high school auditorium at its next meeting on March 19. The girls team won the Western Athletic Conference championship tournament and was runner-up for the Section II, Class C-D championship;

— Heard from Schrade that the school received a grant for $250 for gardening supplies from the Home Depot’s Youth Garden Grants Program; and

— Heard a question from PTA President Michelle Tusco. Tusco asked what the district’s policy is on loaning its vehicles to outside organizations and how far school buses are permitted to travel. Schrade said the district loans its vehicles to senior citizens or town youth programs. The buses and Suburbans, he said, are allowed to go a maximum of 75 miles from the schools.

People must pay to use pavilion at park

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — After recurring acts of vandalism and abuse of its facilities, Westerlo Town Park will soon be changing. Fees will be charged, and playground equipment will be added.

The town board held a public hearing Tuesday on the use and rules of its parks and voted, with one member dissenting, to charge renters of park facilities fees and to have them sign forms. Residents will pay $25 and non-residents will pay $50. The town has parks in the hamlet and in South Westerlo.

The board, after hearing a sales pitch from Liza Agresta, Marketing Manager of R.E. Woodson, voted unanimously to purchase new playground equipment totaling $25,545 for the hamlet park. The equipment, said Agresta, is at state contract pricing, on sale for $5,000 less than its retail price.

R.E. Woodson, based in Rochester, recently installed playground equipment at Norton Hill in Greenville, said Agresta.

The town will pay $15,000; Hannay Reels, the biggest employer in Westerlo, will donate $10,000; and the state will contribute $4,000 for the equipment, said Supervisor Richard Rapp.

Renters of park facilities will be given a list of rules and will have to sign a form saying they have read Local Law 3 of 1989.

The local law is very detailed and covers and prohibits a lot of activities, said Alene Galgay, the town’s attorney. By signing a form, Galgay said, users of park facilities will be held more accountable.

Most town residents, she said, don’t know the local law exists and that they have to follow it. Galgay also said that, in the past, renters have thought they were entitled to the entire park and that the public was not permitted to be on the grounds while they were there. "That’s not the case," she said.

People can only rent the pavilion or the softball field, she said. All other parts of the park, she said, remain open to the public while renters use those facilities.

Residents recommended having renters submit a damage deposit. Galgay said she had discussed the option, adding that it’s difficult to attribute who did damage. The fee, she said, won’t cover everything, but it’ll help.

Residents agreed with Galgay, saying some renting the pavilion might leave before their time has expired, and vandals may do damage after those who rented the space have left.

"A lot use it exactly as they should," said Rapp. But he also said that kids broke every panel at the pavilion and panels cost $30 a piece.

Several residents echoed Rapp, reporting many acts of vandalism at the pavilion.

Councilman Ed Rash said he was concerned about only catering to small children with the playground equipment. The town, he said, looked at purchasing skateboard equipment for older kids in the past, but prices were "outrageous." The town, he said, also tried to get donations from businesses. The idea, he said, was to get the kids out of the street and into the park, where they could have a sense of pride in the equipment.

Councilman R. Gregory Zeh stated earlier that the panels at the pavilion should be removed. Zeh voted against the requirements for renters, saying, "I’m OK with the form, but I disagree with charging people."

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Opened bids for highway materials and uniforms for highway workers. Rapp made motions, which were carried unanimously by the town board, for John Nevins, the town’s highway superintendent, to award contracts to the lowest bidders;

— Appointed Councilman Robert Snyder to attend a meeting at on March 12 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Voorheesville, where officials will review the Albany County Right-To-Farm Law;

— Discussed dog control. The town is currently operating without a contract for stray dogs. Its contract with the Mohawk and Hudson Humane Society, based in Menands, expired on Dec. 31. Rapp said he contacted Knox, which uses the humane society on an emergency basis. Rash said he would contact Greene County, and Gertrude Smith, the town’s clerk, will contact Schoharie County about their policies; and

— Heard from Galgay that she contacted the town’s two banks for a $160,000 bond for a new highway truck. Coxsackie Bank would charge an interest of 3.95 percent, and Greene County Bank would charge 3.79 percent. Councilman Zeh asked Galgay to find out how long the percentage rates will be held.

After 15-year hiatus, Westerlo will have a planning board

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO— Fifteen years after disbanding Westerlo’s planning board, the town board voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint a new one and to begin interviewing candidates.

The town board will hold a special meeting on March 22 at 7:30 p.m. and appoint its members, with a workshop afterward, where new planning board members will review the town’s zoning law and planning-board procedures.

The town board disbanded the planning board in 1992 after developers complained about the length of time and requirements to get approval for projects; town board members have since also acted as the planning board.

Last year, residents Paul Baitsholts and Helene Goldberger sued the town, alleging that the current planning board is illegally constituted, and state law prohibits members of a town board to also serve on a planning board. They are contesting the planning board’s decision in August to grant approval for a 12-lot residential development located adjacent to their properties.

Roland Tozer, who was chairman of the planning board when it was disbanded, told The Enterprise in December, "I’m surprised they haven’t been sued more often."

The motion to appoint planning board members was made by Councilman R. Gregory Zeh near the end of Tuesday’s meeting.

"We’ve talked in the past about putting an ad in the paper this year—prior to our organizational meeting. I’d like to suggest that the board consider and interview candidates for a planning board appointment this month," said Zeh.

"In the meantime," said Zeh, "I believe the board can meet and interview candidates that we’re interested in. We have a list of candidates"."

Alene Galgay, the town’s attorney, has researched the local law on how the town will appoint planning board members. Galgay said after the meeting that more research needs to be done on whether the local law enacted when the planning board was disbanded gives the town board the authority to reappoint a new planning board.

The planning board, which meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month, will hold its next meeting on March 27. The same day, an eight-hour seminar on planning will be held by Lorman Education Services.

The town board voted to hold a workshop following the special meeting after Galgay said she was concerned about the short time new planning board members would have before their first meeting to become familiarized with planning board processes.

"The only one who’s going to know those procedures is going to be me," said Galgay of the planning board’s meeting on the 27th. "And I’ve already had my fill of being chastised for"directing things so I certainly don’t want to be put in that position again."

Unfortunately, Galgay said, new planning board members will not be familiar with planning issues and procedures, including the application process and the the State Environmental Quality Review Act process.

"The reason we’re moving that along is because I know there’s a SEQRA class coming up on the 27th," said Zeh. "I don’t want to bypass the opportunity of that class," he said.

"And don’t forget, your planning boards and zoning boards," said Galgay, "now have a requirement of four continuing education hours a year."

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