is my street: Sally D’Agostino points to the spray-painted
lines of the proposed street.
Choice wants to build a new school, and the neighbors aren’t
residents filled the council chambers for the regular meeting
of the Zoning Board of Appeals to air their concerns with
the proposed construction of a new charter school. The school
is being proposed by the Brighter Choice Foundation as the
permanent home for Albany Prep, one of its four middle-school
charters. The 40,000-square-foot building would sit in the
vacant lot behind Albany Dodge on Central Avenue, and to access
the school, the dead end of Bradford Street, would need to
be opened for traffic.
This is why Sally D’Agostino says that she is opposing the
construction. And it’s easy to see what she will be losing:
Her quiet neighborhood is given its unique character by the
respite offered at the end of Bradford. The leafy trees that
span the little street enclose three generations of her family.
Her mother and daughter both have homes in shouting distance
of each other.
If Brighter Choice gets its way, however, the narrow street
will be torn up and the massive, stately trees will be torn
out to make the street much, much wider. So wide, in fact,
that, as it is envisioned, a sidewalk will run over the spot
where D’Agostino’s bottom porch step is now. To make the point,
her daughter spent one Sunday recently spray-painting the
lines of the proposed street and sidewalks on the ground.
The spray paint runs over the wooden porch step, right up
to the house.
Bender says that it will still be a dead-end street,” D’Agostino
said, “but you might as well put a Wal-Mart there if you consider
that school maintaining a dead-end on that street. We have
been four generations on this street. There won’t be a fifth
generation if this school goes there.”
According to Chris Bender, the executive director of the Brighter
Choice Foundation, Albany Prep, which was opened in 2005,
recently had its charter renewed by SUNY. It has been housed
in St. James Church on Summit Avenue while Brighter Choice
struggled to find it a home. However, “the Roman Catholic
Diocese has notified us that the lease will not be renewed
in July, and the school needs a new home.”
Criticisms ranged from the burdens that siting a school in
this neighborhood would cause residents to the burdens that
another costly school building would cause the taxpayers of
Bender argues that the school won’t be the burden that some
fear. The school is being built for 350 students at its maximum,
but is currently only enrolled at 180. A third of the students
are anticipated to arrive by foot, a third by car, and a third
by bus, according to Bender, meaning only two full-size school
buses and three smaller ones will arrive per day. Plus, the
street that the foundation will be putting in will include
new infrastructure, including drainage and a sidewalk.
now, they park on the dirt,” Bender said, adding that they
are proposing extra parking spaces to be included in the construction
of the new road.
One speaker pointed out that he recently saw his school taxes
go up $80 for every $100,000. “We can’t take it anymore.”
Many, including Councilman Mike O’Brien, echoed the concern
that the only reason Brighter Choice is seeking to build a
new school rather than purchase a preexisting building is
due to the New Market Tax Credit.
According to an article by Daily News journalist Juan
Gonzalez, the program gives “a bank or private equity firm
that lends money to a nonprofit to build a charter school
. . . a 39 percent federal tax credit over seven years,” almost
doubling on the investment.
While this casts doubt on the motivation of Brighter Choice,
Bender argued that the New Markets Tax Credit is a highly
regulated program “that incentivizes banks to make loans in
low-income communities. We qualify for the program, so we
use it to finance our buildings. There’s nothing wrong with
they have done is read a 300-word article,” he said of the
critics who point to the program. “I defy anyone to explain
Judy Doesschate, a member of the Albany City School Board,
points out that the school’s charter has been renewed for
only three years. The school is also on probation for turning
away students that are “more challenging.” And it has been
chronically underenrolled. The school originally was chartered
for 400 students and was approved last year for 230 students.
The building is being constructed for 350 students. The school
currently enrolls only 180 students.
Two additional middle schools have been approved for the city.
There will be five charter middle schools in Albany, as well
as two district schools, she said. “The question is: How many
schools do we want in the city of Albany? And all paid for
by the city of Albany taxpayers.”
Bender argued that the charter schools can fill a vital niche,
as the school district itself has admitted, he said, that
it has too many students for its two middle schools but not
enough for three schools.
talk about how this is going to be an attractive school and
while that’s very nice,” Doesschate added. “I think that you
should imagine what it will look like when it is boarded up.”
of Albany Med worry about added burdens of hospital’s expansion
Urban hospitals and the neighborhoods that surround them often
have relationships that could best be described as delicate,
and never more so than during a major construction project.
As Albany Medical Center gears up for a $360 million expansion
on New Scotland Avenue, residents and the hospital are already
learning that the plan will involve a good deal of give and
A block of Myrtle Avenue between Robin Street and New Scotland
Avenue will close for two and a half years during the construction,
probably starting in the fall. The hospital originally had
sought to permanently close that block, to make it easier
for pedestrians to navigate the increased traffic that will
come with a new six-story building for patient care. That
building will go up on what is now a front lawn and small
parking lot in front of the emergency department, on the corner
of New Scotland and Myrtle.
But Albany Med unexpectedly pulled the street-closure request
off the table. The change was so sudden that several members
of the Common Council went into a community meeting on the
construction project hosted by the hospital last week still
telling constituents that a block of Myrtle Avenue might well
The hospital says it still needs to temporarily close that
block to store construction equipment and supplies. Sidewalks
will also be closed there during the day, while construction
crews are on site. Eventually, the hospital also will demolish
three houses on Morris Street that it owns and that are already
vacant, to make room for a valet parking lot on Robin Street
between Morris and Myrtle.
Thirty months is better than forever, but Common Council members
and hospital neighbors say even a temporary closure will be
Avenue is like a secret neighborhood route that gets you to
a lot of places,” said Council member Leah Golby, whose 10th
Ward’s boundary includes Myrtle up to the targeted block.
“It is not a congested street, but I definitely have neighbors
who love using Myrtle Avenue.”
One of them is Myrtle Avenue resident Gayle Driggers, who
starts her commute to the Berkshires by driving on Myrtle
to South Swan Street. If the block starting at Robin closes,
she will take Robin to Madison Avenue to get to South Swan
and the entrance to Interstate 787 North.
always ask me, ‘Why do you commute so far?’ ” Driggers said.
“I really love Albany. And being able to get out of the city
efficiently is really important. Could I go by Madison? Yes.
Is it going to add minutes to my commute? Yes.”
Common Council member Richard Conti, whose 6th Ward includes
the block that would be closed, said the city is still working
out the details of the closure request. Conti does not oppose
it, but wants to make sure both sides understand the details
the same way.
months is a long time to say, ‘It’s not going to be closed
permanently,’ ” Conti said.
Albany Medical Center owns all of the buildings on the targeted
block. The hospital used to rent several of the houses, although
hospital spokesman Greg McGarry wasn’t sure if the tenants
had been medical students or neighborhood residents, or where
they had gone. The occupants left last year. One building
on the block is used for Internet technology staff for the
hospital, but medical offices in the remaining buildings have
already been moved to a new building on New Scotland.
The city’s planning board is expected to consider the expansion
project’s site plan for approval July 8.
Park South Neighborhood Association President Andrew Harvey
said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to the closure. The
hospital has steadily expanded along New Scotland Avenue in
recent years: Two new medical office buildings have gone up,
a 1,500-car garage is nearing completion, and a hotel and
several retail stores have filled two blocks. The new medical
tower yet to be built is expected to bring thousands more
people a week to the hospital. The rapid growth and its attendant
quality-of-life issues about noise and congestion have touched
some nerves. Common Council member Cathy Fahey, whose 7th
Ward borders the targeted block of Myrtle and includes the
main hospital campus, accused Albany Medical Center of failing
to fulfill its obligation to surrounding residents during
a sharp exchange with hospital executive vice president and chief operating
officer Gary Kochem at last week’s community meeting.
a huge employer here and this is impacting our neighborhoods
tremendously, and we have to have more discussion about what
you can do for the neighborhoods,” Fahey said.
Kochem, who said he was “embarrassed” by the accusations, responded
that the hospital has “spent a lot of money improving this
neighborhood.” He cited the hospital’s contributions to the
city’s first-time homeowner program, the retail and hotel
space it has attracted, its planned improvements to several
intersections as part of the upcoming project, and its provision
of a hospital-owned house on Myrtle Avenue that was used as
a base for the Albany Police Department’s neighborhood outreach
In comments after the meeting, Fahey said she and other council
members expect to meet with hospital administrators to continue
have so much poverty in this city, and this is an opportunity
to hire from the neighborhood,” she said. “I see this as an
opportunity to leverage something.”
loose ends this week-