Questions about the future of the Old Pump House

defending our Park

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

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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”.

  • If, for example, the east wall of the new pump station abuts the old House (as in the sketch near the top of this posting), 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.

 

 . . share this post with the shorter URL: http://tinyurl.com/OldPumpHouseQQ

. . 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.

Not In Our Park!

red check follow-up: Two resolutions passed by the City of Schenectady City Council on June 12, 2017, represent a compromise solution that we hope will sacrifice, at most, less than 0.1 acre of parkland at Riverside Park. See the posting “what the parkland alienation resolutions mean” (June 12, 2017), at suns along the Mohawk.

 Please Note (Monday, May 3, 2017): For a detailed summary of the May 2 informational meeting on the Project, see our post strong, thoughtful opposition to pump station in the park” (May 3, 2017).

Click this link to see the 25-page Presentation to the Stockade Association Board of the proposed North Ferry Pump Station Project, given on March 1, 2017, by architect Frank Gilmore and CHA’s lead engineer Mike Miller. And, click this link for treatment of the Pump Station in the May 2017 Stockade Spy.

Original Posting

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. . above: [L] the West Lawn of Riverside Park; [R] a rendering (from March 1 Presentation to SA Board) of a proposed pump station to be located on the West Lawn. . . For many more photo images, please seethe at-risk West Lawn of Riverside Park. .

below: a scene from the Stockade Association Memorial Day Picnic on the West Lawn (1970s; from “The Stockade – A Past Reclaimed,” Stockade Association)

WestLawn-MemDayPicnic

This afternoon, April 27, 2017, I sent substantially the following email message to the Stockade Historic District Yahoo! Email group:

Thank you, John [Samatulski], for saying aloud and in print what has to be said, and saying it so well. [click here for John’s email to the Stockade Yahoo Group] 

These points need to be made about the Stockade Association Board’s failure to report in a timely manner to the SA membership and the neighborhood on the character of the proposed Pump Station Project:

  1.  screen-shot-2017-04-18-at-2-08-05-pm When presented months ago with the Renderings of the New Pump Station Project there was NO OTHER PROPER RESPONSE FOR THE BOARD of an Association chartered to protect and preserve the residential nature of the Stockade, than to say “NOT IN OUR PARK” and “NOT BLOCKING the VIEWS of and from Stockade properties”. 
    1. westlawnfromesplanade That is even more imperative when the Objectives stated in the SA Constitution and By-Laws include “Development and improvement of the riverfront area”; Protection of historic properties [including their economic value]; and the Promotion of safety and the “aesthetic and physical improvement of the neighborhood”. 
    2. And, because SA has taken upon itself, and is seen by the broader community as having, the role of “Representation before any City or County governmental agency or component on matters affecting the neighborhood”, its failure to strongly oppose a proposal allows the Applicant, and City Hall, including the Mayor, and the planning and historic districts commissions (and their staffs), as well as the Media, to say with emphasis, “Even the Stockade does not oppose this!” [They literally did that with the Casino.]
  2. It does not take an engineer to know that a new pump station is totally inappropriate in Riverside Park, a small gem of a Park, with very limited lawn space. 
  3. A pump station project, and probably any project, that greatly blocks the viewing of the Stockade from any public space, especially rare views of our backyards, lawns and gardens, is totally inappropriate.*/
  4. newpumpstationcollge Our job — as residents, owners, and lovers of the Stockade, as well as the Board and the entire Association — is to say “NO! NOT IN OUR PARK! FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION.” The job of the City and its experts is to find a solution that meets the wastewater requirements of the City and State, or prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the new Station must swallow up part of the Park and destroy the Stockade viewshed.
  5. Delay This! By not alerting the neighborhood of the project proposals that were presented months ago to the Advisory Committee and then the SA Board, the Board has played into the hands of the City, its lawyers, and the project proponents, who will surely use a purported lack of time for complying with its agreement with the State as an excuse for not finding a suitable alternative. The Board members’ job was not to wait around for fine-tuning or the eventual unveiling by the proponents, so that they could say that comments were addressed, and a shrub or two was added or window glare reduced. Their job was to sound the alert that the quality of life in the Stockade was being threatened.
  6. An SA officer or Board Member, or candidate for those positions, who does not agree with one or more of the points above should declare their disagreement and give reasons.

You can find photos of the endangered West Lawn of Riverside Park, and images of the Renderings, at “suns along the Mohawk”, at http://tinyurl.com/WLawn . 

  • On a personal note, I must say that it is a relief to have others raising, in public and forcefully, issues that I have been addressing, and more. We cannot hope to protect the Stockade by playing (silent and minor) partners to so-called Partners in Progress at City Hall. Advocates need to advocate avidly to achieve their goals, and to be respected by politicians. And, we need to use all the available means of communication, such as email and the Stockade Association website, to keep the Stockade neighborhood informed ofnimportant matters.

Thanks for taking the time to consider these points. Please plan to attend the public presentation by CHA of its Pump Station Project on May 2, I hope we can be told the location and time ASAP.  at 7 PM at St. George’s. 

David at Cucumber Alley

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*/ Any Board or Association member who is asked to review a project in or impacting the Stockade neighborhood should have on the tip of his or her tongue or fingers reference to The Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s policy statement on Visual Impact Assessment [available at http://tinyurl.com/VisImpactDEC]. The DEC Visual Impact Policy Statement, among other things, says that a formal visual impact assessment is needed, with at least a line-of-site survey, whenever any component of a project can be seen from an historic district, such as the Stockade, with adequate mitigation measures taken to prevent any significant visual impact on or from the District.  [The Visual Impact Policy should also be posted at the Stockade Association’s very underutilized website.]

Even The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming stated, in their Application to the Casino Location Board for the Schenectady casino license, that a Visual Resource Assessment (VRA) in accordance with the NYSDEC Visual Assessment Policy was needed to identify the potential impact of the proposed development scenario on the visual character of surrounding neighborhoods. [Because they ignored the 80’ pylon tower in their own VRA and stressed the low-rise nature of the casino complex, they said it would have no impact on the Stockade.]

red check What’s So Special About Riverside Park?

Riverside Park is only 6 acres of land, stretched along 1/3rd of a mile of riverbank. In thinking about the impact on the Park, I hope decision-makers will keep in mind three sources of praise and caution from outside the Stockade:

  •  On January 26, 1998, a Resolution of the Schenectady City Council resolved, that Riverside Park “is recognized as a unique component of the [Stockade Historic] District and best serves residents and visitors as a quiet place to view the natural beauty of the Mohawk River.”  In addition, the Resolution stated that “to change its special nature would deprive visitors and disadvantage the homeowners who are the caretakers in this Historic District of national importance.”
  • With its combination of urban waterfront beauty and relative tranquility, Riverside Park was praised by the editor of Architect Forum as “probably the finest thing of its kind in America.” (Dec. 1961) 
  • In addition, and not surprisingly, the Mohawk River Waterfront Revitalization Plan for Schenectady County (2010) has noted that even recreational changes to the Park have been controversial. Therefore, the Plan notes (at 71): “Identifying the appropriate intensity of recreational use along the river has been a sensitive issue in the area of the residential Stockade neighborhood. Riverside Park provides a walking trail from which neighborhood residents view the river. The most active use relating to the river is the occasional fisherman. Thus, the nature and location of the Park “inhibits any significant expansion of use other than to improve it as a scenic overlook and to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access and connection to adjoining areas.” As a result, the only recommended projects in the Plan for Riverside Park involve making improvements in the park’s “current amenities,” connecting it to East Front Street Park and the Union Boathouse, better accommodating bicyclists through path improvements, and creating an alternative Bike-Hike trail. [Nope, nothing about losing a major piece of the Park for a modern, industrial-like project.]