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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, December 13, 2007

1.2M renovation
Knox board adopts plan for town hall

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — After years of talk, Knox has a plan for Town Hall.

A committee charged with reviewing plans to renovate the 30-year-old building recommended a conceptual plan to the town board last month. All four board members present at Tuesday’s meeting voted for the $1.21 million plan. They now hope to obtain grant money for the project.

"The board is going to try and keep the cost as low as possible," said Supervisor Michael Hammond yesterday. "We would like to include local contractors as much as we can."

Last month, members of the Knox Town Hall Renovation Advisory Committee presented the board with three conceptual plans.

Helene O’Clair, a member of the committee, said last month that, whatever the town board decides, it should move quickly because labor and material costs are rising. The committee formed after O’Clair recommended in January that plans to renovate the hall be revisited. Her husband, who was disabled and could not access town hall, has since died.

Community members have been concerned about the hall’s accessibility to those with handicaps.

Most importantly, Hammond said of the plan, it brings Town Hall into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. "That’s what’s driving the whole thing," he said.

Councilwoman Patricia Gage did not attend Tuesday’s meeting; the other four board members voted for the plan.

The plan includes a fireproof storage area for town records, offices on the lower level for the assessor and the tax collector, judges’ chambers, an elevator, and a multi-purpose room where the town’s boards would meet and town court would be held.

Hammond said the plan also includes a conference room and a much larger office for the building department with storage space for plans. Renovations also include a room divider for the multi-purpose room, which could be used if two events are occurring simultaneously. An entrance would be constructed to allow access to the lower level and a new roof would be installed.

On Tuesday, Councilman Dennis Decker asked Charles Sacco, the architect who designed plans two years ago and also drew up new conceptual plans, about differences between the two.

Sacco, who met with the citizens’ committee, said that additional corridors on both sides of the judicial offices for judges to use in an emergency were cut down. A lot of people, he said, were questioning whether the square footage was necessary.

"But I feel the compromise hasn’t lost the integrity of what we were looking for. We still have a judges’ office, a judicial clerk space to house files, and the judge still has an escape route," Sacco said.

After approving the plan, Hammond said, the next logical step is to forward the plan to Susan Lombardi, the town’s grant writer for the project. Hammond said Lombardi needs officials’ signatures on application forms and specific information to apply for grants, such as the site plan, the floor plan, and the construction plan.

The town has long considered renovating the town hall, built in 1977. Initial plans were drawn up by Sacco-McKinney Architects over two years ago, estimated at $1.05 million. The town board then ruled the costs too high.

While the project under consideration is higher than initial plans, Hammond cited high residential construction costs, and said the higher prices are probably driven by fuel prices, which affect everything else.

Sacco said Tuesday that some minor changes may need to be made to the plans because of new building codes. The current plan includes a bathroom to be used by men and women, accessible to those with handicaps, he said. A new code, which may be in effect in January, calls for two bathrooms, one for each sex, he said. Sacco said he didn’t anticipate the change to add any costs to the project.

"When I did the plans recently — two years ago — we were experiencing 3-percent inflation...on materials, and that really spiked up dramatically on projects...and who knows where it’s going to go," said Sacco

He was in shock, he said, when he worked with the town hall committee while reviewing elevator costs from two years ago. He said he’d thought he’d made a mistake.

"Those were the right numbers. Elevators have escalated that much as various products did," Sacco said.

Sacco said there shouldn’t be a contract between his firm and the town until the voters of the town approve the project.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Held a public hearing for Section 8 Housing, a federally-funded program for low-income families in the town. Terry Ray, of Joseph Mastrianni, Inc., which handles the program for Knox, said there are currently 20 families in Knox eligible for the program; 18 families are receiving aid and three are on the waiting list.

Knox first entered into the program in 1995. Councilman Nicholas Viscio said the federal government provides funding of over $100,000 annually, and none of the money to fund the program comes from local tax dollars;

— Heard from resident Grace Cunningham that she is still concerned about Whipple Road. Cunningham, along with area residents, petitioned the town board in August to take ownership of an unpaved portion of a road between Whipple and Carick roads. Recently, Cunningham said, the road was blocked.

If the wall is not taken down, Cunningham said, she plans on publicly demonstrating;

— Voted unanimously to renew the town’s contract for tipping fees with the city of Albany to remove refuse from the town’s transfer station. Albany charges $52 per ton of garbage, the same rate for the past several years, said Hammond;

— Discussed proposed sites for a cellular tower and interest that has been shown by companies and individuals to place a tower in the town. Officials have considered two sites for a cellular tower.

One site is in the hamlet near the town park on property owned by Knox. The other is a 5-acre property along Street Road that was donated to the town and is located near the town’s transfer station. Part of the parcel is zoned residential, and another part is in a land conservation district.

Members of the planning board have voiced concerns about a tower being placed on a property on Street Road. Officials are uncertain where the conservation district is located and discussed hiring a surveyor.

Robert Price, the longtime planning-board chairman, said three people have expressed interest in constructing a cellular tower in the town.

He called Knox "kind of a hotbed of activity" and said that eventually there will be more towers in Knox. A cellular tower, he said, may be placed in the nearby town of Berne, with coverage that would overlap Knox.

Price estimated it would cost $1,500 for a surveyor’s services. Councilman Joseph Best estimated a surveyor would charge $100 per hour, and the work would be completed in 20 hours.

Price said he would obtain quotes for the board to address the matter at its January meeting;

— Discussed purchasing a new Case backhoe for the town’s highway department. Gary Salisbury, the highway superintendent, said he had spoken with a company, which requested a letter of commitment and will right now credit the town $36,000 for its backhoe, purchased in 2003. Salisbury said the new backhoe would cost $66,709.19 with options, and production of the backhoe, due to new emissions requirements, is scheduled to shut down in three to four weeks. "We’re jumping up to a much bigger machine," Salisbury said.

Hammond was concerned about signing a letter of commitment without having the funds and said the purchase would be subject to permissive referendum.

Salisbury was uncertain how long the quotes would be valid, as the town’s backhoe will decrease in value as it is used and a new one could increase in cost due to emissions compliance.

Board members said they will discuss purchasing the backhoe at their January meeting; and

— Scheduled its annual re-organizational meeting for 9 a.m. on Jan. 1.

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Before voters decide next Tuesday on a $12.7 million plan to renovate the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools, members in the district had their say at a public hearing Monday.

One significant question, said BKW Superintendent Steven Schrade, was: Is there a back-up plan if this project is not approved"

If BKW were to scale down on new space to be created by the project, Schrade said, state aid would be disproportionately less. As the project now stands, he said, it maximizes state aid — bringing in the most allowable — while keeping the cost to the local community as low as possible.

Schrade estimated last week that those in the district with a regular STAR (School TAx Relief) exemption who own a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $6 per year or $90 over 15 years.

Those with a senior STAR exemption and a home assessed at $100,000 would pay about $2.65 each year — about $39.75 over 15 years.

No matter the cost of the project, the percent of state aid would remain constant at 79.2 percent, Schrade said, but the spaces that are necessary, such as new bathrooms and locker rooms are not aidable by themselves, according to the state aid code. Schrade added that building an additional technology classroom helps bring in aid for other aspects of the construction that are not otherwise aidable.

Schrade said of the overall cost of a less expensive project, "Although the overall price of the construction would be less, it is unlikely that the local share would be diminished by very much at all."

If the project is not approved by the district’s voters, Schrade said, he would recommend to the school board that the BKW Facilities Planning Committee reconvene. The committee, formed in January of last year, has worked with architect Karl Griffith and consists of BKW staff and community members.

"We’d have to send it back to the committee, and it would be a difficult job to come up with something much different or cheaper," he said.


The project was driven by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Schrade said earlier.

Renovation plans for the middle-high school include a new cafeteria and technology room and new bathrooms and locker rooms — all accessible to those with handicaps. Plans also include an expanded auditorium stage and renovations to the gymnasium, art room, and library.

Updates to the elementary school would include: renovated bathrooms, a new loudspeaker system, new fire alarms and smoke detectors, added elevator access on its ground floor, and a new roof over the main entrance and the cafeteria.

Schrade said of roof construction to the elementary school, "We’ve had a professional group come in to do a patch on a couple of occasions. Our crew, this past summer, did their best to patch it, but these kinds of situations, to fix the problem completely, you have to really tear the whole thing up and put a new roof on."

At the hearing, school board members and Griffith also considered adding a space for an exercise room to be used by members of the community, Schrade said.

"We thought there could be a space incorporated into the plans, although nothing has been drawn up at this time," he said.

Schrade said it was generally felt by those who were in attendance at the public hearing that the project under consideration, "which was the end result after three or four other versions that had been rejected" was the best project that meets all ADA requirements and also enhances BKW’s technology, library, and art programs.

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — David R. Bryan, a former Rensselaerville supervisor, was sentenced to a two-and-one-third to seven-year term in prison and to pay full restitution to his victims in Albany County Court on Monday.

According to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, from April 1, 2003 to April 10, 2007, Bryan stole:

— $148,180.32 from the Rensselaerville Library;

— $72,822.58 from the Trinity Church in Rensselaerville;

— $75,050.00 from the Rensselaerville Historical Society; and

— $7,450.00 from the Rensselaerville Historical District Association.

Bryan had held leadership positions in all four organizations.

Heather Orth, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, called Bryan’s "a sad case" and added that the district attorney’s office is hoping that the sentencing helps rebuild trust in the community.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Department first learned of the embezzlement after Investigator Ron Bates discovered a suspicious check earlier this year. Bryan was indicted on Sept. 5 and pleaded guilty on Oct. 2 to one count of grand larceny in the third degree, a Class D felony.

The day Bryan was indicted, investigators from the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office told residents in the packed town hall about their investigation.

Employed as a house principal at the Abrookin Vo-Tech school in Albany, Bryan also stole $33,659.79 from the Albany High School Student Association, according to the district attorney’s office.

Financial Crimes Bureau Chief Christopher Baynes prosecuted the case. Terence Kindlon was Bryan’s attorney. He could not be reached this week for comment.

Kindlon said in October that Bryan had "been extremely cooperative," and that he "fully accepted responsibility" and "acknowledged what he did was wrong and criminal."

Judge Stephen W. Herrick sentenced Bryan on Monday.

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