The new weighted vote numbers were expected to be the most important issue discussed at a special Legal Committee meeting last night, but, in terms of newsworthiness, that issue was eclipsed by a resolution about the proposed senior center presented for consideration by Common Council president Don Moore. The resolution sought primarily to authorize the city treasurer and the mayor to accept funds from various sources, including the Galvan Foundation, for the construction of the proposed new building.
No sooner had the resolution been distributed than committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward) introduced what he called a "change in circumstance." He explained that "the Albany Diocese is willing to part with St. Mary's Academy for $1 million"--$80,000 less than the City is poised to spend on what he characterized as a "too small senior center." He pointed out the St. Mary's Academy is 19,000 square feet as compared with only 4,200 square feet in the proposed new building and it came with 60 parking spaces in the lot across Third Street from the building. He recommended that the City acquire it, saying, "If we were to buy that building as a city, we would own that for a hundred years."
Friedman proposed that the building be used as an intergenerational center. He suggested that the Day Care Center, now located in a City-owned building in the first block of Warren Street, and the Youth Center be moved to the building to share space with the senior center. Friedman went on to suggest that the City could then sell 10 Warren Street--a desirable building in a desirable location--and the former church building at Third and Union streets, making the observation that "unique buildings on side streets are becoming attractive to investors."
Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward), from the audience, asked if the fifty-year-old former school building had any structural problems, which prompted former mayor Rick Scalera, now a special adviser to the Galvan Foundation, to weigh in. Galvan, he said, had looked at the building in the past and didn't buy it because it had "asbestos issues."
Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward), also from the audience, urged that the Council consider whether or not the proposed senior center was a "sensible or good project." "The fact that we have the money," he told the committee, "doesn't make it a good idea." He said the design for the proposed senior center was beautiful, but he questioned "cobbling it to a building that is ancient and not great." He went on to say, "Free money isn't free if it doesn't give us what we need."
Scalera then observed that the only "skin" the City had in the game was $130,000. The rest came from other sources and was "time sensitive." Alderman David Marston (First Ward), a member of the committee, objected to Scalera's participation in the conversation. "I don't think we can take what you say at face value," he said, alluding to Scalera's role as special adviser to the Galvan Foundation. This comment provoked an explosion of comments, in raised voices, relating to the Galvan Foundation's motivation in offering the $300,000. Speaking of the $300,000 grant, Marston said, "This is not the magic pill that's going to build us a senior center. I think we're being brash."
Friedman expressed concern about the third paragraph in the letter from T. Eric Galloway to Mayor William Hallenbeck, which starts out with the notation "RE: Request for funding." The paragraph reads: "Galvan Foundation support is contingent upon receipt of a proposal from the City requesting funding to proceed with the project and scope of work fully consistent with the architectural drawings and specifications used for bid purposes." Friedman said this paragraph created a problem because it "requests what we cannot promise."
Scalera pooh-poohed Friedman's concern, recapping the sequence of events: "The architect and the engineer brought the price down to $1,080,000 [from $1.3 million], and Galvan volunteered to fill in the gap." Reacting to Scalera's implication that the language of the letter was unimportant, Friedman retorted, "Your not caring about what's in writing has gotten this city in more trouble."
Scalera countered, "That's why this administration gets nothing done!"
At which point, Friedman clarified that he was an alderman not "this administration," then rose, and unceremoniously adjourned the meeting.