historys demise: Friends of Building 36. Photo
by Leif Zurmuhlen.
to the chagrin of Friends of Building 36, GE is going ahead
with plans to demolish another of its historic structures
General Electric continues to move ahead with plans to demolish
Building 36 at its gas turbine plant in Schenectady, company
spokeswoman Jan Smith doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.
just ridiculous what people are assuming,” Smith said. “A
building does not have to look bad on the outside to be bad
on the inside. You simply can’t tell from the outside.”
But people have been fussing, particularly the two dozen members
of Friends of Building 36 who assembled outside of the vacant
structure on April 3 asking GE management not to destroy the
Many carried placards or chanted their message to GE’s new
CEO, Jeffrey Immelt: “Building 36: resource,” “Don’t be a
yo-yo, demolition no, no” and “Hey Jeff, Don’t be Jack the
Ripper!” Most of the picketers were retired GE workers who’d
spent some amount of time either working in or on building
tried to appeal to GE, but we have not heard from them,” said
Mary Kuykendall, who worked at GE for 28 years and now belongs
to Friends of Building 36. “Jan Smith and her PR people don’t
talk to people unless they are higher-ups of some sort. We’re
just ordinary people and former employees.”
What the ordinary people and former employees want is a new
use for the building—possibly as a small-business incubator
in partnership with one of the local colleges or as a museum
of television or electric history—not its demolition.
Friends of Building 36 point to the building’s particular
place in television history as a reason for salvaging the
six-story brick structure, which is nearly 82 years old, just
outside GE’s fenced-in facilities at 1 River Road in Schenectady.
One of the older buildings at the GE site, Building 36 was
home to a number of early television experiments from the
late 1920s to the early 1940s. Local television station WRGB,
currently located in Niskayuana, used Building 36 as the home
for its preliminary research in the use of television broadcasting
75 years ago. In fact, the world’s first televised play, The
Queen’s Messenger, was broadcast from building 36 over
the local station W2XAF in 1928.
think this would help GE,” Kuykendall said. “It’s a shame
if they don’t want to celebrate Edison’s legacy and the birth
of electricity in this area.”
Arne Loft, a Scotia resident who worked at GE, has another
idea: Why not turn the building over to one of the local colleges
and let them use it for a small-business incubator, as GE
has done in other cities, like Syracuse?
not let Union College or [Schenectady County Community College]
use it?” Loft said. “If they are willing to pay the taxes,
then GE would have no reason to tear it down.”
According to Peter McElligott, codirector of the U-Start Business
Incubator at Union College, business incubators can be funded
from a variety of sources, including tenant rental income,
grant money, private donations and contributions from the
partnering college or university.
But Charley Casey, a spokesman for Union College, said the
school briefly looked into acquiring Building 36 and abandoned
the idea due to the potential costs of the undertaking. SCCC
spokeswoman Heather Meaney said her school had made no inquiry
into Building 36.
Considering the building’s current state of decay, that only
makes sense, said GE’s Smith. Though the building once was
a spot for historic experiments in television, Smith said
all of the historic television equipment has been removed
from the structure.
don’t understand the fascination with it myself,” Smith said.
“It’s an old, decaying building that’s unsafe, and we’re taking
it down because that is the only appropriate thing to do.
There were a few activities that took place in that building,
but there is nothing left in that facility to preserve. That
is not a landmark, that is rhetoric. We’re not destroying
But when questioned for specifics on the building’s state
of decay, Smith wouldn’t divulge its structural deficiencies.
am telling you that the building is in fact decayed beyond
reasonable use; structurally it is unsafe, and we have moved
[employees] out, and that is all I have to say,” Smith said.
“I don’t have to prove it to you. The fact of the matter is,
it’s coming down. It’s not fit for use and that’s the company’s
LaSharma Sanders, an information processor in Schenectady’s
Office of Code Enforcement, said GE has not completed its
application for demolition permit, but Friends of Building
36 are not hopeful, and admit that the historic building’s
destruction is not too far off.
very concerned about it and hoping they will change their
mind, but we’re kind of powerless,” said Kuykendall. “They
haven’t adequately explained why they wouldn’t want to save
money for shareholders by finding a new use for the building.
You still get it off the tax roles selling it or giving it
to the community, and it saves them a million or two.”
Has Its Costs
interest group emphasizes hidden fees attached to ATM and
hear Katie Davis tell it, the numerous “convenience fees”
many banks attach to ATM use and debit-card purchases present
more hassle than ease.
super-cheap,” said Davis, a communications student at the
College of Saint Rose. “I won’t pay the [$3.50] unless I absolutely
have to; I just don’t have the dough. The ATM at St. Rose
charges me $2, then my bank turns around and charges $1.50.
According to a recently released study from the New York Public
Interest Research Group, automatic-teller machines suck in
both the figurative and literal meanings of the word. In fact,
the group has reappropriated the acronym in the title of its
study: ATMs—Always Taking Money.
The group’s study, which looked at the different fees and
charges levied by 121 different ATMs statewide, says that
New Yorkers are paying more and doing so more often than ever
before when accessing their own money from automatic teller
profits were at $90 billion last year, yet these fees continue
to go up and consumers are getting hammered,” said NYPIRG
consumer advocate Liam Arbetman.
According to the report, 99 percent of bank-owned and 100
percent of privately owned ATMs charge customers a fee when
using teller machines not owned by their financial institution.
Statewide, banks charged an average fee of $1.58 per transaction
to ATM users whose account was with a different bank. That
average was higher in the Capital Region, where banks charged
an average fee of $1.74 per use. Charter One Bank at 111 Washington
Ave. in Albany tacked on the highest fee in the region, charging
$2.50 to use its ATM with another bank’s card.
save banks money,” Arbetman said. “They say these charges
are convenience fees, but using an ATM costs the bank less
than employing a teller. It is in their interest to use ATMs.”
The study notes that many banks profit by charging customers
for viewing their account information and printing mini-account
NYPIRG’s report also points out that every bank it surveyed
double-dips: Banks also charge their own customers a fee for
using an ATM owned by a financial institution other than their
own. The average fee was $1.21 for a withdrawal and $1.10
to check account information. Bank customers in New York using
ATMs at banks other than their own can expect to get slapped
with a total of $2.79 per transaction, the report states.
is like putting a toll at both ends of the bridge,” Arbetman
In fact, the report says, operating an automatic teller machine
can be such a profitable venture that some nonfinancial institutions
choose to run ATMs for the money to be made on fees alone.
NYPIRG’s report states that these independent service operators
often charge fees on a level with bank-owned ATMs, but target
low-income individuals, as they often locate their machines
in areas with few banking options.
Also, the NYPIRG study pointed out one of the lesser-known
fees assessed by most banks when making purchases with a debit
card. Most banks assess a surcharge to their customers who
choose to punch in the account number while making a debit-card
purchase, as opposed to signing and making a credit-card purchase.
Davis, for example, said she was unaware of whether her bank
assessed a fee for this transaction or not.
According to the report, VISA and MasterCard debit cards generated
nearly $500 billion in activity last year, with an increase
in card ownership of 18 percent from the previous year.
NYPIRG urges consumers to actively seek out information on
their bank’s charging methods and to stay informed about how
their bank will charge for different services. If nothing
else, NYPIRG urges consumers to voice their concerns over
fees to their bank.
your bank know that you are unhappy with these fees as many
ways as possible,” Arbetman said. “Write letters to your bank’s
manager, write letters to your legislator. Let people know
you are unhappy paying these charges.”