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School’s Out

Well, the secret is finally out, and, just as many people had predicted, Gov. George E. Pataki has big plans for development at the W. Averill Harriman State Office Building Campus in Albany.

But the plan doesn’t offer space for Albany’s third middle school, as some people had hoped. And it will involve relocating thousands of state employees into downtown Albany and neighboring cities, a concept that the New York State Public Employees Federation has a problem with.

“Everyone knows there’s a shortage of parking in downtown Albany,” said PEF president Roger Benson. “Adding a minimum of another 900 employees to this area without provisions for additional parking would only worsen an already bad situation.”

Last Wednesday (April 3), Gov. Pataki unveiled a $300 million plan to transform the Harriman campus into a research and development park. The governor promised a $64 million commitment from the state for demolition and site improvements. He also said that there would be another $240 million in private investments.

But many question why this location cannot also be the home for Albany’s third middle school.

“It is hard to believe that there is not an extra 20 acres to spare out of 300 to house a school,” said Albany Alderman Michael O’Brien (Ward 12).

O’Brien, who is involved with Friends of Westland Hills Park, a city group opposed to the Albany School District’s plan to construct a much-needed third middle school in Westland Hills Park, off Colvin Avenue, said that the Harriman Campus would be an ideal spot to build a school.

“The Harriman campus could afford the new school site, and it would not take away precious parkland from the city of Albany,” said O’Brien.

But the possibility of a school being included in future plans at Harriman campus looks dismal. Even Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who first pitched the Harriman campus as an ideal location for a new school last year, has backed down on the idea. Last Wednesday, Jennings was quoted on the Times Union Web site, shortly after a 10:30 AM press conference, as saying that the land is much too important to be used for a school.

“Consultants don’t believe that a school will work in a sophisticated tech park,” said Randall Sawyer, spokesman for the state Office of General Services. “But the opportunity for the public to share their comments still exists through public hearings, which could start in early May.”


This Land Can Be Your Land

It looks like Lonnie Palmer, superintendent of the Albany City School District, is about to put another vote before Albany residents. But this time, rather than a $175 million school-facilities plan, which Albany residents passed in December, he wants to make a deal—well, maybe more of a swap.

In order to use Westland Hills Park, the proposed site for Albany’s third middle school, as part of the school-facilities plan, the district needs to give the city an equal amount of land in kind. New York state law requires that any time parkland is taken away from a city, the land must be replaced somewhere else.

Last Wednesday [April 3], the Albany school board met with Albany Common Council members to propose exchanging 3.3 acres of land surrounding the Sunshine School in Lincoln Park for 2.9 acres of land at Westland Hills Park. The board plans to put this land swap before Albany residents for a vote on May 21.

“First, voters have to approve it, ” said Palmer. “We can’t give anything away without having voters’ approval. The land in the end belongs to the citizens in Albany, and we want to make sure that a fair trade exists for the city.”

But many are saying that the 3.3 acres at the Sunshine school isn’t an even exchange for the land at Westland Hills Park.

“The school district is getting a piece of a pristine parkland in Albany. In turn, the city will get land that is attached to a school that the district is currently using,” said alderman Michael O’Brien (12th ward). “In my opinion, it is not as suitable as Westland Hills.”

The school district has also agreed to give the city $1 million for improvements to Westland Hills Park as part of the land-swap deal.

“It is like we are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said alderman Dominick Salsolaro (1st ward). “We certainly don’t want to loose parkland to build a school, but I know the city needs the school just as bad.”


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