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Promised Land

After two years of planning, construction on the Capital South Campus Center will finally begin

by Erin Pihlaja on April 24, 2013

It’s been just over two years since Trinity Alliance and the Albany Housing Authority secured a $5 million grant for the development of the Capital South Campus Center, a 12,200-square-foot educational facility to be located in Albany’s South End east of Lincoln Park. On May 2, ground will officially be broken at the site, heralding the construction phase of the project.

“It’s absolutely been a lot of work,” said Harris Oberlander, Trinity Alliance’s CEO. “Getting the construction started will be a really powerful statement. It will energize the community, our partners, and the neighbors who see the construction happening. It’s a powerful message.”

The project has not been without its delays. Oberlander said that since first applying for the grant in September 2010, “we’ve been busily working on it ever since.” October 2012 marked the original groundbreaking event, but soil quality issues caused construction to be delayed. Oberlander estimated that construction would take approximately one year, and that he expected to be “in the building fully by September 2014.”

In a May 3, 2012 Metroland article (“At Last It Could Be Here”), Oberlander said that the building would house “classrooms, a greenhouse, a child-care facility, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and a computer lab.” While details are still currently being worked out, Oberlander said that “just about every college and university in the area” had been approached about helping to create a “gateway into two- and four-year degrees.” Some of the institutions Oberlander said have expressed interest include Schenectady County Community College and Empire State College as well as those in the nanotechnology industry.

“What we’re doing is unique,” said Oberlander. “There are only 10 communities in the United States trying to do this. Some programs will offer basic education credits, people will have the ability to complete their high school education, and we will offer certificate-bearing programs. People will be using this as a portal to start out on their career in higher education.” He added that 50 percent, and likely more, of the Albany student population “is not graduating high school and going on to college.”

The problem is nothing new to Willie White, founder of the community organization, A Village, and a lifelong resident of Morton Avenue. “I live two minutes from the Campus Center, right in the heart of the neighborhood,” said White. “I was raised there pretty much my whole life with the exception of about 10 years.”

White, a graduate of the culinary program at Schenectady County Community College, spends much of his time dedicated to community activism and said that he has been involved in an outreach committee for the Campus Center project since the early planning phases.

“I’m inspired by it,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to our neighborhood—I’m excited about the potentials and possibilities.”

Still, he said he’d like to see his community, the people whom the Campus Center will most directly benefit, get involved even before the doors officially open. “There is 30 to 40 percent unemployment in my community,” he said. “We need to be involved from the first shovel in the ground—we need to help build the Campus Center. They could put a stipulation in the contracts so that when they hire contractors they have to provide the community on-the-job training. The Campus Center is a great opportunity and it will mean so much more if the people help build it.”

Whether or not White’s concerns will be addressed is yet to be determined, but Oberlander maintained that the Campus Center will address the needs of the neighborhood.

“The community wanted this—it was a part of the 2007 Capital South Plan,” said Oberlander. “We were at National Night Out and people wanted to know what was going on. They were filling out surveys to express their interest in areas of studies and their career goals. People understand that there’s something coming that’s really big and as the building goes up they can see themselves in those college seats. They can see themselves becoming members of the workforce, earning a living wage in jobs and careers that are part of our region.”

Albany Promise, a regional organization that focuses on a “cradle to career education vision,” will be headquartered in the building. “I hope the business community sees that here is a relatively untapped work force, and a talent pool that with the right ingredients and input can fill the needs of employers,” said Oberlander. “This is one of those connectors that will help smooth the way.”

Starting construction represents a long-awaited achievement for those involved with the Campus Center project, but there are certainly more milestones yet to come. “I believe it will take some time for us to get our model the way we want it to be,” said Oberlander. “It’s one of the greatest challenges that I’ve ever taken—or that Trinity has ever taken—it’s exhilarating and it’s a challenge. We’ve taken the first steps and we’ve got to keep on moving forward.”