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Wrecking-Ball Blues

Local historic preservation groups make a last-ditch attempt to save two Albany school buildings

If you looked at just the
school buildings themselves, you could imagine that nothing is wrong: There are still student drawings and colorful construction-paper cutouts taped in the windows. However, all the trees around the buildings are gone.

That’s not all. Asbestos has been removed. Chain-link fencing is up, and the heavy equipment is ready to move in. According to Albany City School District spokeswoman Erica Ringwald, Schools 16 and 18 are coming down—soon. Reached by phone on July 26, Ringwald explained that School 16, located at 41 N. Allen St., will be leveled sometime within the next few weeks. The demolition of School 18, just off Delaware Avenue at 43 Bertha St., began yesterday (Wednesday, July 27) before 9 AM.

Two grass-roots organizations have tried, in recent days, to stop the demolitions and save the schools. On July 18, the Troy-based Historic Action Network joined with a new Albany-based group, Friends of Albany’s Historic Schools, in writing a letter of protest to the city school district and the state education department.

The letter, signed by Russell Ziemba (of HAN) and Mark Ferran (of FAHS), protested the demolitions as a “waste of Albany’s past capital investments and the loss of the scenic quality and intrinsic value of historic public buildings,” and raised a number of issues—issues to which the groups are seeking a prompt response from the school district.

Their main points? They suggest the former Eden Park nursing home site, near the corner of Delaware and Holland avenues, as an alternate site for a new School 18. They question the absence of a “federally mandated review for the historic preservation” of these buildings; an “apparent” bias against preservation by the planners; the loss of the value of the historic buildings to the taxpayers; inadequacies and inequalities in the designs for the replacement schools; and the failure of the facilities plan to examine the historic value of each school separately (the schools plan looked at the buildings in the context of the entire district).

Unfortunately, the Albany City School District did not send its official response to the letter in time for this article. However, Ringwald pointed out to the Times Union yesterday that the facilities program was “five years in the making.” It is certainly true that school district has not been deterred at any point in the process: It sparred with Mayor Jerry Jennings over many aspects of the plan, and fought hard to earn voter approval.

Many people have staked the future of the system to this plan. As Albany City School Board member Patricia Fahy told Metroland last year, “I’m hoping it will completely revitalize the school district.”

Still, the letter writers argue that the current buildings are essential to Albany’s revitalization: “Neighborhoods that keep their historical integrity have a better chance at viability, as neighborhood revitalization is closely tied to the preservation of its stock of historical buildings.”

While it may indeed be too late to save School 18, it is likely that the groups will continue their effort to save School 16.

—Shawn Stone

sstone@metroland.net


What a Week

Free Trip to Iraq? Anyone?

The Pentagon asked Congress to raise the maximum age of Army recruits from 35 to 42. The age increase is designed to make up for the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that the Army and the Army Reserve have both missed their year-to-date goal for recruitment and seem to be on track to miss their annual quotas. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are meeting their goals and are unlikely to accept older recruits. The Pentagon has also recently taken steps to make boot camp a little more inviting by aggressively prosecuting instructors who make life hard on trainees.

Say It Again, Anonymous!

The Pentagon seems to be recycling quotes attributed to anonymous Iraqi citizens in press releases about insurgent attacks. A release about a car bombing on July 24 has a nearly identical quote as a story about an attack on July 13. Both articles feature a quote from an unidentified Iraqi who says “The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure,” calls the insurgents “enemies of humanity,” and finishes with, “They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists.”

Hey Big Brother, Look My Way

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is going to have a VeriChip microchip implanted under his skin. While the chip is touted as a way to have easy access to medical records and as a means to track people in case of an emergency, Thompson is having the chip implanted for promotional reasons: He recently joined the board of Applied Digital, the company that owns VeriChip.

 How Convenient

Since members of the region’s Family Planning Advocates were already in Washington, D.C., on a lobbying trip when Bush’s pick for the Supreme Court was announced, they were able to join a rally on the steps of the court calling for a thorough inquiry into Judge John Roberts, who has argued for gag orders to prevent doctors from discussing all reproductive health options and has been a member of the hard-right Federalist Society.



Overheard

Overheard:

"So I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It was damn good cheese though."

—late night at the Old Songs Festival campground



A Mighty Wind

Further empowering their off-the-grid home in the Montgomery County town of Glen, Dave Smalley and Sarah Johnston last weekend added a Bergey 1,000-watt, 104-foot-high windmill to an array that includes equipment both modern—collectors for solar-heated water and electrical conversion—and tried-and-true, like their solar-powered clothesline. Their house will be part of the Oct. 1 Green Buildings Open House, sponsored by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, which has more information at www.nesea.org.

 

Photo: B.A. Nilsson

 

Loose Ends

After many months of ignoring the lawsuit, Third Ward Albany Common Councilman Michael Brown finally gave a deposition in the year-and-a-half-old case regarding alleged misuse of absentee ballots in the 2004 county elections [“Redistricted, Reprimaried, Retried,” Newsfront, April 15]. Brown invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination in response to 172 questions, including where he went to high school, what his job title is, and whether he’d heard of the lawsuit against him. Frequently he asked for a question to be repeated or clarified, and then declined to answer it. He seemed to be taking a cautious interpretation of the court rulings that have said one can’t start answering a line of questioning and then invoke the Fifth partway through; after providing a few basic facts in the beginning, Brown took the Fifth on every single subsequent question. Well, all but one. In response to a question about whether he was aware of any instances of vote buying, he strayed from his pattern to accuse Wanda Willingham, one of the plaintiffs, of vote fraud from 1999. . . . After getting a bill to allow non-patient-specific prescriptions of emergency contraception through both houses of the New York State Legislature, reproductive health activists are now trying to make sure Gov. George Pataki signs it. They point to a study by Comptroller Alan Hevesi, which found that the bill could result in 122,000 fewer unintended pregnancies, 82,000 fewer abortions, and a savings of $452 million for the state. The governor is facing pressure from anti-choice groups not to sign the bill.



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