Update on 53 Putnam Street Proposal

[JK: I received this from the Preservation Foundation.  I must say that my problem was not so much with the height as it was that the image of the rendering of the building which was quite ugly.]

Preservation Alert Update – 53 Putnam

As many of you know, the Foundation wrote a letter expressing its concerns about the height of the proposed new construction at 53 Putnam Street. The Design Review Commission agreed with the Foundation’s assessment and asked the applicant to reduce the height of the structure. The Foundation has met with representatives of the project and looks forward to viewing revised plans.  The Foundation will continue to provide updates as this project moves forward.

Trying To Untangle The Truth About  Insurance Coverage Of City Hall and Costs for Proposed Renovations

On social media and in a letter to the editor by former mayor, Ray Watkin, a narrative is being formed that the city failed to properly insure city hall  and that expensive, self indulgent, and unnecessary work is being planned. The problem is I can find no evidence to support these claims.

I have always admired Ray.  In my opinion he was probably the best mayor of Saratoga Springs in my lifetime.  He was an early visionary about the value of historic preservation and much of this city’s success should be credited to him.

Having praised my old friend, I found his letter deeply disturbing.  He accuses the current city council of having gone on a ”…a binge of impulse buying to kick off the holiday season: an $11 million renovation of city hall.”  Referring to the city’s plan to bond for work on the structure, he offers, “The borrowing is required because the building appears to have been under-insured, the extensive renovation was not planned, and no money set aside.  How many members of the Council, let alone taxpayers, have insured their homes for only one third of replacement value?”

On a social media site Bob Turner, past chair of the 2017 Charter Review Commission, asked “Why does the insurance cover only half?  Did the city not have full insurance?”

Pat Kane, who was vice chair of the same CRC, opined, “Shameful misuse of taxpayer dollars. Who looks at our insurance policy annually.  This REMODEL will cost 15 Million dollars and the city will never get to repair the most essential infrastructure services this city so desperately needs. Fire hydrants, water pipes, sewer lines, water treatment.  Live with in (sic) the budget,  Repair city hall…remodel..is extreme”

Laying Out The Numbers

This prompted me to contact John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts.  As Commissioner of Accounts he is responsible for the city’s insurance.  Here is what I learned from him:

What the insurance costs and covers:

  1. According to Commissioner Franck, City Hall was insured to the maximum allowed.  If Raymond, Dr. Turner, or Mr. Kane can refute this they should provide some sort of documentation.  There is something called “Insured Interest.”  As a rule, insurance policies can only cover the costs for replacing what currently exists (more on this later).
  2. The city chose a policy characterized as an “historical insurance policy.”  This means that special expenses associated with things like architectural moldings, particular woods, etc. are covered.  The decision to secure this kind of coverage was critical for reconstructing the beauty of our city hall.
  3. The coverage will also include the removal of asbestos (the exception to the replacement limitation).
  4. The city also had purchased a $1,000,000.00 rider under the category of “Loss of Business.”  This rider covered the many expenditures related to continuing the city’s operation after the fire made city hall unusable.  It paid for the rental of properties to continue the city’s business.  For example, the city rented space in the Van Raalte Building.  It also covered equipment and furniture.  This included things like carpeting and cubicles.  If you visit the city’s operation at the Rec Center you will be able to appreciate what went into creating an operational environment for the city’s employees.
  5. The current estimated amount the city will receive under its policy is $4,600,000.00.
  6. The key areas that sustained the most damage were the areas along Lake Avenue.  These include the Accounts Office, the City Council Chambers, the offices on the second floor where assistant chief Catone and other management from the police department were located, Commissioner Scirocco’s offices, and areas of the music hall.

Additional Costs Not Covered By Insurance

 So as noted above, insurance only covers replacement costs.  Any improvements the city makes in the building are not covered.  It should be noted that making many of the improvements the building needs has been stymied in the past by the need to displace staff while the work is done.  It makes simple logical economic sense to take advantage of city hall being totally empty and the walls taken down to the studs to make as many improvements as possible.

Here is what is planned:

  1. HVAC: The city had an antiquated system for heating and cooling.  It used window air conditioners for cooling.  The plan is to install an effective heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.  This will have great long term benefits.  It will be far more energy efficient than the current systems.  It also will assist in addressing air quality issues.  (If you have ever attended a city council meeting with a full house during the summer you will be aware of just how problematic the air conditioning in city hall can be.)

 

  1. The music hall on the city’s top floor has not been able to be fully utilized.  To begin with, due to the problems of sound and the fact that it is located directly above the courts, it has not been able to host events when the courts are in session.  In addition, because it is on the top floor and not air conditioned, it has not been able to host events during the summer.  The area becomes too hot to accommodate people comfortably.   This has meant that the city has lost events and money it could have earned.  The new HVAC system will allow this space to be used year round and will enhance the quality of life of our city.

 

  1. The city is extensively redesigning its wiring system.  This will have the advantage of not only more efficiently providing energy throughout the building but will allow it to design the wiring to minimize the cost of maintenance.  The city will benefit  from more reliable wiring and will reduce the cost of maintenance.

 

  1. The city will be installing an additional elevator that will provide greater security and safety for the public when moving prisoners up to the courtrooms.  The elevators will also be compliant with the requirements of the American Disabilities Act.

 

  1. The court system has been pressing the city for a number of years to expand the courtroom facilities to include a second courtroom along with greater administrative space.  This plan has gotten bogged down in the enormity of the problems that reorganizing city hall entails.  The city is now able to go forward.  One nice benefit is that the New York State Administration On Courts will pay for the interest of the bonding required for this part of the city’s rehab saving the city money.

 

  1. Similarly, the city had been struggling to find additional space for the police department.  Many will recall the substantial cost estimates that were under consideration when it was thought the city would need to secure a separate facility.  Through better planning along with the fact that the law library on the city hall’s third floor will be moved to Ballston Spa, the city will now have a solution.

 

Responsibly Prioritizing Rehab:

I mentioned to John Franck that there was suspicion that these renovations would be exploited by the Commissioners for personal purposes.  He told me that the only change in his offices was that the deputy’s office would be reduced slightly to deal with an enlargement of the bathroom.  The current bathroom is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The door needed to be enlarged to handle wheel chairs.

Costs: The latest estimate of the cost of the entire rehab is $10,000,000.00.  $4,600,000.00 will be covered by insurance while the balance of approximately $5,400,000.00 will be covered by bonding.

People can and should scrutinize all these plans.  What I find disturbing is not only the indifference of Ray, Mr. Kane, and Dr. Turner  to providing any concrete information to support their claims but the tone of contempt and anger that characterizes much of what they write.  I find John Franck’s explanations credible.  Maybe the cost will rise from the current projection of $10,000,000.00 to the $15,000,000.00 projected by Mr. Kane.  We would all benefit, though, if Mr. Kane would offer some explanation as to how he arrived at his number.  Criticism is important but it should be based on rigorous analysis and done civilly.

A Smooth Transition

 The readers of this blog should also consider how smoothly addressing the crisis of the fire and now the  rebuilding of city hall has proceeded.  One could have expected the process of relocating the entire city government and now re-configuring city hall could have resulted in all kinds of conflict between departments and dragged on for months.  What is clear beyond doubt is that the extreme attacks on the commission form of government characterizing it as virtually non functional have not been born out in this crisis.  Great credit for this must go first to Mayor Kelly who has headed this process but also to the other commissioners who have cooperated closely with her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study Details Economic Benefits Of Historic Preservation In City

Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, has published an excellent piece on the history of historic preservation in Saratoga Springs. In the article, which appeared in the Saratogian, she presents details from a study her organization did in partnership with the City Council.  The study makes a slew of comparisons in terms of real estate values comparing property in the historic districts with those outside them.  Well worth the read.

 

 

City School District Seeks Input On Survey For Forum On School Safety

[JK: From Saratoga Springs City School District web site]

SSCSD Community Safety Forum on December 17
11/26/2018-12/19/2018

logo

On December 17, the Saratoga Springs City School District will hold a Community Safety Forum. The event will be held in the Saratoga Springs High School Teaching Auditorium from 7 – 8:30 p.m and include the following:

  • A panel of District Emergency Response Team members will provide an overview of school district safety and security with time for questions.
  • NYSIR will discuss the recent security assessment conducted in all school buildings.
  • A summary of the school safety survey will be shared.
  • The District will share action steps moving forward to continuously improve the safety and security of our schools with time for feedback.

Prior to the forum, we invite you to complete a survey to provide feedback on safety and security. The survey will be open until December 14. Thank you for taking time to give us your feedback.

As a school community, safety is on our mind all of the time and we continue to evaluate how we can make improvements in this area.  We invite you to visit the school district safety page anytime to learn more about safety.

Preservation Foundation Issues Alert About Putnam Project Under Consideration By Design Review Tonight (12/5/18)

[JK:This is an email sent out by the Preservation Foundation]

PutnamStreetProject

 PRESERVATION ALERT 
53 PUTNAM STREET

Tonight at 7PM the Design Review Commission will do a sketch plan review of the application for new construction at 53 Putnam Street.  This is a preliminary review with non-binding discussions about the basics of the project prior to the submission of a formal application.  This project will be reviewed by the Design Review Commission again in the future.  To review the application; the Foundation’s letter, including historic photographs and Sanborn Maps; and any additional correspondence submitted thus far, please CLICK HERE.

The project site is located in the local historic district.  It is immediately adjacent to the Broadway Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is within the viewshed of Congress Park, a National Historic Landmark.

The existing circa 1905 one-story building has been vacant for many years and housed a dry cleaning business for decades and later served as a storage facility for waste hauling vehicles.  The Foundation does not object to the demolition of this structure and supports a new use for the site.  The Foundation appreciates the time and investment that the applicant is making in the development of this site.  However, the Foundation has significant concerns about the project as it is currently proposed.

The Foundation objects to the height, scale, and mass of the proposed structure.  It is not compatible with the neighboring structures and the character of the historic setting.  The submitted application provides the context of the buildings behind the project site on Broadway.  However, the Foundation does not agree that this is the context in which the height of this structure should be reviewed as the buildings located on Broadway have a 30’ grade change from Putnam Street.  The height of this structure should be reviewed within the context of the existing buildings located on Putnam Street and historic documentation.

The Foundation recommends that to fully understand the visual impacts of the height of the structure, an assessment of various viewsheds should be provided – including Congress Park, Henry and Circular Streets. The Foundation is strongly recommending that the height of the structure be reduced.  In addition, the Foundation finds that the architectural details and materials of the proposed project are inconsistent with the surrounding buildings.

If you wish to provide any comments regarding this project you may do so at the Design Review Commission meeting  this evening at 7pm at the Saratoga Springs City Center, 522 Broadway, or you may submit written comments addressed to Tamie Ehinger, the Chair of the Design Review Commission, via email bbirge@saratoga-springs.org.

Thank you for taking the time to read this preservation alert and
​your continued support of our mission!​

Controversy Over School Personnel Carrying Firearms

The Saratoga Springs  Board  of Education rejected a resolution at its October 9 meeting  to allow the district’s grounds monitors to carry firearms.  The grounds monitors, who are mostly retired police officers, patrol school campuses and buildings, assist in student arrival and dismissal and provide security for after-school activities.  Apparently they have been carrying arms for the last approximately thirty years in violation of state law.

Here are two articles from area newspapers regarding the controversy.

Times Union

Daily Gazette

Not surprisingly the issue has become quite contentious.   In order to better understand the controversy I have asked two people with differing views to write for this blog.

Speaking in favor of arming the monitors:

Kara Rosettie is a mother of 3 boys, two of which are in the largest elementary school, Dorothy Nolan and one son that is in Maple Ave. She have been in the Saratoga Spring school district since 2012.

Speaking in opposition to arming the monitors:

Shafer Gaston is a retired submarine officer who has lived in Saratoga Springs off and on since 2006 while serving in the US Navy.  He settled here with his family in 2016 and works as a project manager/industrial engineer.  He has four children, three born in Saratoga Springs, all of whom attend the excellent schools in The City in the Country.

Full Disclosure

My wife Jane, a retired  teacher, and I enjoy shooting skeet.  For those of you unfamiliar with skeet, there are two “houses” that hold devices that launch disks known colloquially as  birds.  There are a series of “stations”  in a semi circle between the two houses that participants rotate through attempting to break the birds.  I also shoot something called sporting clays.

I am an avid upland bird hunter with my English Setter, Miss Kate.  I trained Kate and we pursue ruffed grouse and woodcock.  I also enjoy cooking and I am quite partial to these game birds.

Kate's First Point
Miss Kate at 12 weeks pointing a planted quail
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Miss Kate On Point On Woodcock
KateCoPilots
Miss Kate Directs
KateLaysOut
Miss Kate chills out on ride back from Maine

Neither Jane nor I are members of the National Rifle Association.  We are both deeply troubled by gun violence in this country.  Neither of us sees any simple solution to the issue.  The friends I enjoy shooting with run the gamut from teamsters to neurosurgeons.  We need to find a way to better protect the public while allowing responsible gun owners to pursue their sport. My hope is that this blog will help to foster a civil conversation that can move us forward in that direction.

 

 

Shafer Gaston: Guns In Schools Do Not Equal A Safer Environment

The School Board made the right decision when it decided not to re-arm school monitors this fall. This is not only my opinion on the subject based on what I have read; it is based on the authority and responsibilities of a school district to its community.

First of all, I am not someone who is afraid of or hates firearms. But I do understand that weapons should only be introduced when the risk of accident is outweighed by the needs of security.

I spent the majority of my adult life in the US Navy. Sometimes I carried a sidearm or a rifle, as did others around me. Every time we armed out, it was because of a specific need, and as soon as we were done, back into the locker all weapons went, because firearms are inherently dangerous – at a rate of about 500 deaths per year due to accidents. These aren’t just irresponsible owners; these include trained, proficient law enforcement officers, and it happens right here in our own community.

We, as a military organization, elected not to take unnecessary risk. I would appreciate the same consideration in our schools.

Every additional weapon on campus increases the risk of accidental discharge. Comparatively, the risk of a student being killed in a mass shooting at a school in the USA is fairly low: 100 in the last ten years, or ten per year. Of those 13 incidents of mass shooting that specifically targeted children (vice workplace employee-on-employee violence), 5 perpetrators were students or recent students who entered the school without challenge. 6 perpetrators committed suicide – presumably undeterred by the prospect of armed resistance.

Compared to 500 or so accidental discharge deaths a year, 3000 auto fatalities a year for teenagers, or 5000 suicides per year for those under 25, it seems like there may be better areas to direct our efforts.

Nonetheless, parents are concerned about school security, probably because we feel like it is the one place where we have little control over our children, and our gut instinct is to turn to the police. Reliance on regular law enforcement in schools isn’t without controversy, and organizations that promulgate current best practices advocate for methods that include a combination of training and physical access control, as well as mental health.

While there have been instances of law enforcement in schools preventing incidents, there are just as many success stories from the passive methods. Most importantly, by paying attention to warning signs, providing community intervention services, and other “soft” techniques, we have stopped many of these tragedies before they occur – the measures taken at the outbreak of violence should be a last resort.

Note that the entire debate discussed above is about whether School Resource Officers, who are by definition active, sworn law enforcement officers, are effective. Nowhere do armed guards, no matter what their background, appear in the literature.

All of the information above has been studied, restudied, debated, and used to enact policy. However, chances are, if you have been caught up in the local debate, you are not an expert on what makes a good school, and certainly not a safe school. I am not either. I can secure a pier, I can secure a boat, but I have never been trained in securing a school, and I have certainly never participated in any comprehensive study on school security. Neither has anyone on the school board, as far as I know.

Luckily, the New York State Education Department, from which all School Boards derive their authority and their mandate, provides guidelines for school systems on how they should operate.

NYSED is not a law enforcement organization. Neither they, nor any of the school boards over which they have authority, are in the business of arming and training security personnel. That is why in their guidelines they state that “if a school determines that it needs to have an armed professional on school grounds, SROs are the only school personnel of any type who should be armed.”

School Resource Officers are so much more than a “good guy with a gun”, or even regular law enforcement. They are trained to deal with psychological issues faced by teenagers, to work with faculty and school staff, and to support the learning environment. Most importantly, they derive their authority and ongoing training from a commissioned law enforcement organization. Their selection is determined by law enforcement, and they participate in continuous education and certification. This protects the school system from unneeded liability by leaving law enforcement to the police.

From my background in submarining, I know sometimes there may be situations that require you to put aside doctrine for immediate needs. However, you must be able to explain, after the fact, what exactly you knew that meant you needed to disregard studied, proven expertise by people who were hired to give you the right answer. My anecdotal evidence is that most naval officers haven’t been vindicated when disregarding established doctrine.

Additionally, I know that a response to being challenged of “well, we’ve always done it that way” or “well, nothing bad has happened yet” is a poor way to operate in a world that changes – especially when the well-being of our children is involved.

Like it or not, unless we think there is something particularly dangerous about Saratoga Springs, there is no reason to introduce unnecessary risk. The school system exists to raise the knowledge, skill, and opportunity of all people in our community, and that is exactly what the school board is doing by following recognized, holistic best practices for the school environment. Keep doing things the right way and we will stay at the forefront of educational practices and success stories.