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Building Trust

Members of the Pine Hills community voice concerns over, and hear assurances on, Saint Rose’s latest construction plans

The College of Saint Rose has undergone extensive renovations over the last year, prompting concerned responses from some members of the neighboring Pine Hills community. This Monday, Pine Hills residents and Saint Rose officials met to discuss plans to convert buildings at 334 Ontario St. and 556 Yates St. (including the adjacent 571 Morris St.) into maintenance and storage facilities, plans that have elicited concerns about noise, traffic and the historical integrity of the neighborhood. While Saint Rose denied that the buildings would house heavy, gas-powered machinery and operate 24 hours a day, some longtime residents pointed to prior breaches of faith as evidence that such assurances are not guarantees.

“To give you some idea of how the neighborhood was,” said Ric Chesser, “in the ’60’s, when the Breslin brothers”—State Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Delmar) and Albany County Executive Mike Breslin—“grew up on Morris in a house that’s now vacant, there may have been a hundred kids. Last year, there were 10; this year, there are two.”

Chesser has lived in his house on Morris Street since 1980. He began having issues with the expansion of the school after Saint Rose purchased the old Vincentian Institute Child Culture Division (also known as the Glass School) directly across the street from his home. Originally, he said, they were going to raze the building and put in a parking lot. The structure was instead renovated and turned into a music building for students.

For Pine Hills residents, who were promised that the renovations would reflect the character of the neighborhood, the resulting blank gray wall and surrounding parking lot came as a disappointment.

Another concern Chesser pointed to, that the current renovations were intended to attract more students to the school, was also rebuffed. Marcus Buckley, the vice president of finance at Saint Rose, insisted that the new, eco-friendly facilities are as much for current students and faculty as they are to attract talented new students, but not necessarily more. Boasting an arts building with an energy-harvesting, light-balancing system, a recital hall with excellent acoustics that runs on zero fossil fuel, Buckley claimed that the upgrade was purely for “pedagogical reasons,” and that “standards have been raised.”

Although the Pine Hills residents were still skeptical, they said that they’re willing to work with the college to help ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. At the meeting Monday night, while concerns about graffiti, property upkeep, and red plastic cups (used at keg parties and for beer pong) were raised, community members also expressed appreciation for the speed with which Saint Rose has been addressing such issues, particularly over the last few years.

“We just don’t want to be treated like the back end of Saint Rose,” explained Dan Healey, noting that representations of impending projects shown to the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association in the past have not always borne much resemblance to the finished product. “We work hard to keep our neighborhood nice. We’ve been trying to get our home historically certified, and we don’t want to see our vision destroyed.”

At the same time, Healey and his wife expressed gratitude for the added security provided by the school and admitted that, often, Saint Rose was a better neighbor than many of their conventional neighbors.

René Molineaux of Yates Street agreed but stressed that he would not be happy if the proposed construction led to more traffic or noise on his street, especially at odd hours of the day. Buckley and Mike D’Attilio, of Saint Rose’s public-relations office, repeatedly assured those present that operating hours would be limited to 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM, that the buildings would house no gas-powered machinery, and that they would be used primarily for storage. According to the proposed plans, the building on Yates will house the campus carpenter, as well as seasonal equipment, such as shovels and rakes; the site on Ontario will be used to store school files, extra furniture for student housing and extraneous holiday decorations.

Currently, the school still needs permission for these actions from the city Board of Zoning Appeals, a process that has not yet officially begun.

Councilwoman-elect Leah Golby (Ward 10) was present at the meeting, but seemed content to merely listen to concerns for the time being.

—Ali Hibbs

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