Conclusions from the June 1st Pump Station Briefing

 . . Below is the Email message sent by David Giacalone to the Historic Stockade Yahoo Listserv on June 23, 2020. It continues the tale told in our prior posting “was the Pump Station another Rendering Ruse” (May 7, 2020). .

GrandOldTree-img_3835
. . view of Grand Old Tree and Old Pump Station (June 2017)
Dear Stockade Community:
You may recall that there was a “Briefing” about the new North Ferry Street Pump Station for the members of our City Council, at their June 1, 2020 Committees meeting, which was held by teleconference. CHA chief engineer Mike Miller and City Director of General Services Paul Lafond made the presentation, and Council Member Marion Porterfield led the questioning. 
The Gazette and Time Union have not reported on the event, nor has it been summarized by the Stockade Association.You can see the Meeting for yourselves at the Open Stage Media Video On Demand page, at https://tinyurl.com/NFSPSbriefing. The Briefing lasts about 50 minutes and is the first matter taken up at the Meeting.
CONCLUSIONS and COMMENTS. After watching the Briefing live on June 1st and listening again at a better pace for note-taking last week, I wrote up a set of Conclusions with Comments, which I sent by email Sunday to City Council members and the press. For those who are interested in the full treatment, I am attaching an 11-page pdf file of that email, which includes many relevant quotes and images, along with additional points and comments. Below is an Outline of the Conclusions
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The Briefing was requested and is best viewed with the following key points in mind
  • The Council’s June 2017 Clarifying Resolution (Res. 2017-179; attached below) clearly statesany overflow into Riverside Park will be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” And that no construction will be approved “it the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.”
  • All prior renderings of the Project shown to the public and Council: (1) Depicted the New Station situated so as to allow the façade of the Old Pump House to be seen from the West Lawn of the Park and other locations west of the New Station, and (2) Show the preservation of the healthy century-old silver maple tree after the construction process. For example:
 
The Conclusions, in my opinion, call for further action by City Council, to assert its primacy in setting policy and budgets. The Council and members of the Stockade community (with or without Stockade Association support) should continue to press this matter. For example, by insisting
 
(1) CHA provide a new full rendering depicting the current proposed location of the new station, new fence, and nearby trees
(2) Any Construction be paused that would prevent “bumping” back the New Pump Station, farther from the River, so that we and future generations will be able to view the picturesque historic façade of the Old Pump House from west of the new pump station.
(3) A new site plan be presented to the Council and Stockade community that allows the Old Pump House, as in the October 2017 Plan, to be seen from west of the New Pump Station
 
Another issue that needs consideration is whether 25 years of working with the City has made CHA’s relationship too cozy with City officials. Ignoring Council resolutions and offering less-than-useful-and-frank “briefings” should not be tolerated in a contractor making millions of dollars.
 
OUTLINE of CONCLUSIONS (with comments)
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1] MILLER & LAFOND CLEARLY SHOW THAT EVEN THE ABOVE GROUND PORTION of the MAY 2019 PLAN VIOLATES COUNCIL Res. 2017-179 and continues to be inconsistent with it —viz., in words and images, it is clear that part of the New Pump Station Lot encroaches 34 feet into the Park.
  • ABOVE GROUND. At 30:30 to 31:40] Miller admits the encroachment of the design made after consulting with the contractors is “roughly 34 feet on the north side, 21 ft on the back side”.
    • Miller explains [at about 38:00] that “The only specific guidance we had was not moving the fence line more than 30 ft. into the park”. That raises the question as to why he, Lafond and Mayor McCarthy (and later the Stockade Association Board) nonetheless endorsed a plan with a section of the fencing 34 ft to the west of the old fencing.
  • Also, BELOW GROUND: [31:50] there is encroachment of “roughly 50 feet” past the original fence.
    • Although Miller told Karen Z-W that the dimensions of the underground portion have not changed, he did not clarify that the underground portion is at least 15’ farther into the Park than with the October 2017 Plan, in which the underground portion already butted right up to the 30’ mark.
2] NO NOTICE OF THE SIGNIFICANT CHANGES WAS GIVEN TO THE COUNCIL OR NEIGHBORHOOD, although the changes in the October 2017 plan were made as early as 2018, and despite constant communication with City Hall and with Stockade Association leaders. Mr. Miller notes that he spoke with the Mayor and Mr. Lafond about the changes. (The City officials apparently did not insist thereafter on Notice to the Council under the June 2017 Clarifying Resolution.)
 
3] THEIR ARGUMENT that the MAY 2019 PLAN IS CONSISTENT with the RESOLUTION DOES NOT HOLD WATERThey Say:
 
  • We did not move the new building farther than the 30 ft agreement
    • But: The Clarifying Resolution does not contain the word “building” and explicitly states that the overflow shall be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” 
  • The overflow was roughly 28 foot average on that structure.
    • But: Average Encroachment is not a concept found in or suggested by Res. 2017-179, and adopting that standard suggests Miller & Lafond knew they could not meet the “no wider than 30 feet” requirement.
  • The Agreement and Guidance only concerned above-ground, green space
    • ButThere is no distinction in the Resolution between above and below ground encroachment, nor mention of green space, or use by the public. 
 
NOTE BENE: There may be valid reasons why the facility needed to be moved to the west and north. But, the failure of the Pump Station managers to notify the Council and public of the changes prior to implementing the May 2019 Plan, deprived us all of the chance to test those reasons and seek alternatives that would preserve the elements of the October 2017 Plan that protected Park aesthetics, while fulfilling the CIty’s engineering goals. There was plenty of time to achieve that balance before our current spring construction season.
 
4] NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT IS GIVEN THAT THE VIEW OF THE OLD PUMP STATION IS BLOCKED FROM THE WEST UNDER THE NEW PLAN, a significant change from the 2017 Plan. 
 
  • An Obstructed View of an Historic Resource is considered an adverse impact which must be removed or mitigated under our Environmental Review law.
  • Miller makes the (flippant) observation that you can see more of the Old Pump House than when the two Stations were closer together (yes, if you stand, or float by, directly in front of the increased space between the Old and New Stations).
  • The New Rendering is Irrelevant to the issues raised. 
    • Miller was asked for a new rendering analogous to the set of Oct. 2017 renderings (example above), which showed the positioning of the two pump stations, and location of the new fence, along with preservation of the Grand Old Maple Tree. 
The unhelpful New Rendering, seen below, only shows the New Pump Station in its latest form, giving us the presumed answer to the unasked question of whether the outer design (appearance) had changed. No one said it had changed in any significant way.

5] THE FATE of the CENTURY-OLD SILVER MAPLE TREE WAS KNOWN in EARLY 2018 and NEVER REVEALED to the public in the two years before it was chopped down.

 
6] THE STOCKADE ASSOCIATION BOARD’s EXONERATION of CHA & CITY SHOULD BE GIVEN LITTLE WEIGHT. As we expected, Mr. Miller points to the Board’s May 8th Letter as supporting his claim of consistency with the Clarifying Resolution. [34:56] The Letter, which was sent without consulting the Members or the wider community, repeats Miller’s argument that the Clarifying Resolution only refers to overflow into the Park by a building. But, the Board’s claim that the Resolution contains the phrase “building overflow” is simply wrong (and Ms. Unger has never responded to my May 8th email giving many additional reasons why the new plan is inconsistent).
 
7] OUR “VERY ENGAGED COMMUNITY” & COUNCIL APPEAR TO BE THE REASON FOR SILENCE ABOUT THE SECRET MAY 2019 PLAN, which was proposed by subcontractors two years ago. 
 
  • It surely was very important to the project managers that the Clarifying Resolution states:
RESOLVED, without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall approve no contract for the construction of a new pump station, and no construction shall be approved if the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.

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Thank you, Stockade Community and Riverside Park Protectors, for taking the time to consider the facts and factors surrounding the New Pump Station, especially the changes made after the October 2017 plan was approved. For a full account of the issues raised by the Secret May 2019 Plan, including images and links to materials, see  https://tinyurl.com/RenderingRuse
David Giacalone
P.S. If you would like more information or have a comment, please let some or all of the following folks know:
 

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Summary of Pump Station Briefing. (pdf file; email to City Council from David Giacalone, June 21, 2020)

 
 
 
 

 

Questions about the future of the Old Pump House

defending our Park

                  . . reprinted from “suns along the Mohawk” (July 17, 2017)    

update (September 30, 2017): See great news about the Old Pump House”. It seems that the current, “old”, pump station will be preserved and converted to a new use. 

 . . 

above: Pump House on Labor Day 2009 [R] and on the day of the Irene Flood (August 2011)

The Old Pump House

  . .above: from the collection of the Schenectady County Historical Society, Grems-Doolittle Library

Many people in the Stockade and Schenectady had hoped that the Old Pump House would be retro-fitted and rehabilitated instead of building an entirely new pump station. That battle was lost. However, one issue that I believe will need a considerable amount of deliberation very soon is the fate of the Old Pump House.  That may be especially true in a City that recently “lost” the Old Nicholaus Building, and thereby angered many of its residents. Furthermore, consideration of the future of the Old Pump House, which was constructed in 1913 (see rendition above), is logically interwoven with the design of the New Pump Station and its lot. The next stage in the creation of the new pump station is, of course, its architectural/exterior design. It would seem strange to decide upon the exterior design of the New Pump Station without knowing whether the Old Pump House is likely to still be standing beside it, just a couple of feet away and sharing the same “parkscape”.

  • pumpstationjun2017views1 If, for example, the east wall of the new pump station abuts the old House (as in the sketch to the left of this paragraph), it would probably be unadorned, without windows, etc.  But, if the Old Pump House is coming down, we would replace a quaint and attractive scene from the park and river with the nearly blank side of the 125 North Ferry Street, a two-family dwelling, and the larger New Pump Station facility, which would be in full view on all sides.

 Frankly, I do not know “how popular” the Old Pump House [“OPH”] is among various segments of the Schenectady community and its leaders. Nor do I have any idea what it would cost to keep it adequately maintained, and to remove pumping apparatus and otherwise convert it to some new community or park use. One reason given by the City’s engineers for needing a separate, new pump station is that the Old Pump House has “shifted” off its foundation. Requests for proof of this claim have not been answered. The City has stated that the old structure shifted about a foot, but others say it was less than an inch and the shift might have been decades ago. Any necessary stabilization of the structure is, of course, one required expense, if OPH is to be allowed to stand.

As you can see from the original 1913 rendering above of the “Concrete Pumping Station”, it had a Bandstand on top when it was built. Of course, at that time, it was only a water-pumping station. [In the Narrative to its application in 2000 for a grant to refurbish the Old Pump House and make park improvements (creating an overlook with trees, period lighting, brick pavers, etc.), Synthesis Architects gives a short history of the old pump house and describes needed cosmetic work on the structure, which was accomplished in the resulting Waterfront and Pump House Project.]

Given many decades dealing with sewerage, the facility and the grounds around it may need to be “remediated” in some form to remove any toxic substances before it can be removed. [Could Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group (Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor) continue their reputation for removing brown-fields by offering to fund the refurbishing of the Old Pump House as a community grant program, on the scale of Rush Street giveaways in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Des Plaines?]

One very big problem with retaining the Old Pump House is the current lack of any plan by the City for maintaining it and making sure that it is a secure building in any period in which it is empty and not used for a new purposes. The lack of a plan or set of alternatives presented to the public by City Hall, despite the Mayor having decided at least three years ago to build a new pumping station, suggests there is little will within the McCarthy Administration to spend — or seek from preservationist sources — funds needed to care for the Old Pump House appropriately. Furthermore, Assemblyman Phil Steck is already a vocal proponent of taking it down, and has offered to submit a bill to the NYS Legislature taking the lot and the structure out of the Stockade Historic District.

 Despite my personal fondness for the Old Pump House, I need to learn much more about the options, pros and cons, and costs of alternatives, before giving its survival a thumbs up or down. I believe many people feel strongly about OPH, while others are indifferent, or think another park use could be made of that part of the current pump station lot if it is removed. To me, it is a unique sight from the river and the park, beloved my many, some of whom do not even know what purpose it serves, and is a special structure from a time when industrial architecture had style. Some of my favorite photos include the old pump house. But, I would like to hear a focused debate about the pros and cons of keeping or demolishing or relocating the exterior of the structure, including relative cost of each viable option, before having to come to a conclusion. 

  • If you have an opinion on the future of the Old Pump House, or questions you, too, would like answered, please let the Stockade Association know, and the Mayor and City Council, along with the media. Click for City Council contact information.

 

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. . or, click on this thumbnail for a 4-page pdf version OPHQQcover

update (July 25, 2017):  An article posted this afternoon at the Times Union website, “Progress made on Schenectady Stockade pump house plan” (by Paul Nelson), had this to say about the Old Pump House:

NewOldPumpStation Once the new structure is up, it will complement the old historic one, said [CHS engineer Mike] Miller, adding there have never been any real discussions about tearing it down.  

“We’ve always worked to try to protect and preserve it, that was always our intention, ” said Miller, explaining that goal is consistent with the stance of city and state officials as well as preservationists.

We will have to see whether Mr. Miller’s statements are accurate. Click here for more on the revised design for the new pump station.