Canton, Potsdam voters overwhelmingly reject merging school districts

Voters in Canton and Potsdam turned out in force Thursday to overwhelmingly reject a proposal to merge the two neighboring school districts.

Canton Board of Education President Victor N. Rycroft supported the merger and said he did not expect it be so strongly defeated. It was rejected in a straw poll advisory vote by more than a 2-to-1 ratio in both districts.

“I’m certainly surprised at the margin. I thought it would be a little bit closer,” Mr. Rycroft said Thursday night as he gathered with others in the Canton High School library. “We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to put together a sensible budget. We’ll be talking with the board and administration to figure out where we go from here.”

Driving the merger proposal was the promise of $35.3 million in state incentive aid over a 14-year period that school officials said would save programs and jobs, reduce property taxes and rebuild the fund balance.

Canton schools Superintendent William A. Gregory said he was “thankful” for such a large turnout.

“It was a pretty clear decision by the community, and we will certainly respect that,” he said.

The result means the merger proposal will not move forward to a binding vote that was tentatively scheduled for Dec. 16. However, the districts have the option of holding another straw poll vote if they receive approval from the state Education Department.

Turnout was heavy throughout the day in both communities. The 2,084 votes cast in Canton far exceed the 534 votes that were placed in the May budget vote.

Likewise, the 1,837 votes in Potsdam far surpassed budget votes that usually draw 700 to 800 residents.

As they left the polls, some residents were willing to explain their vote.

Carol T. Gable, the mother of a Canton high school student, said she voted in favor of the merger because she doesn’t think the state will rescue Canton or Potsdam from their fiscal problems.

“I think it’s the best thing for our students and our communities,” Ms. Gable said after casting her ballot. “The budget is going to decimate all our programs. I’m very concerned about it. I don’t think anyone is going to save us.”

Sarah Simmons, a Potsdam resident, voted no and said travel was her main concern.

“Winters up here are horrible,” she said. “I only live a little bit outside of town and sometimes it takes me 20 or 30 minutes. Imagine having to drive to Canton. I have friends whose kids are already on the bus for close to an hour.”

Eric Hewitson, Potsdam, said he voted for the merger, but described it as the “lesser of two evils.”

Another Potsdam resident, Warren Everhart, said he voted against the merger because he doesn’t feel it’s a long-term solution.

Gerald F. Whalen, 84, and his daughter, Martha A. Whalen, both said the high school is an integral part of the Canton community that needs to stay intact. They voted against the merger.

“A big part of a community is being close to your high school and coming up for activities with your family,” said Ms. Whalen, a 1980 graduate of Canton Central.

Mr. Gregory said if either district decided to consider merging with a different district, another merger feasibility study would have to be conducted.

With Canton projected to deplete its fund balance during the 2015-16 school year, he said he expects the district will have to make further program cuts next school year unless state aid increases substantially. “We know of no other viable options at this point,” he said.

Mr. Gregory said he doesn’t consider large school tax hikes as a viable option for the district’s financial woes.

“The negative consequences associated with proposing tax increases above the tax cap effectively precludes this as a possibility,” he said.

Combining students from Canton and Potsdam through distance learning is a difficult proposition, he said.

“Many classes such as science labs and other classes with hands-on components do not translate well to a distance learning environment,” Mr. Gregory said. “Staff supervision must be provided at the remote site. This negates some of the savings.”

Both districts would have to be on the same time schedule and have the same class period lengths, which is currently not the case for Canton and Potsdam. “This and other instructional considerations carry contract implications, as well. Additional resources may be required to set up the distance learning labs as well,” he said.

Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, said if Canton and Potsdam decide to hold another straw poll vote, state officials may require them to update the feasibility study before holding another straw vote to make sure the data is accurate. Canton and Potsdam school boards would also have to agree to hold another vote.

Various factors could be considered, Mr. Burns said, such as how much state aid gets allocated to each district next school year. A dismal financial outlook, he said, may prompt districts to put the proposal up again.

Johnson Newspapers writer Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.

After 12 hours of voting in a straw poll advisory vote, the outcome was 680 yes to 1,404 no in Canton and 558 yes to 1,279 no in Potsdam.

 

By Susan Mende, Times Staff Writer

Urban Mission open house showcases renovations

The Urban Mission in downtown Watertown invited community members into its newly renovated building — a construction project that would not have been possible without the community’s support and contributions from donors.

“It was close to 500 donors that made this possible, donors who literally had handfuls of change, had $20 cash from their minimum-wage job, to the Community Foundation that pledged $200,000 right out of the gate giving us the kickstart that we needed. KB Global Care (Knorr-Bremse Global Care), who put us over the top with a $200,000 donation at the end and every single one in between, you have all made it possible, and we love you and thank you equally,” said Erika F. Flint, executive director of the Watertown Urban Mission.

The Rev. Steven M. Murray of Holy Family Church, president of the board of directors for the Watertown Urban Mission, said, “This is a statement that the community cares.”

“This is truly a historic day for this organization, and we’re blessed to share it with all of you,” Father Murray said.

He said that although the building has a new finish, the organization’s mission remains what it always has been.

“Like the mission itself, the people serve by their generosity to make a major impact on our community, and by our collective support of this project, we send a tremendous word of encouragement to those that are struggling,” Father Murray said.

Mrs. Flint said the Wednesday event offered tours and welcomed the community to see the upgraded Urban Mission.

“Today was about being able to show appreciation for all the hard work people have done to make this possible,” Mrs. Flint said.

She said the building isn’t completely finished — there are some “behind the scenes” odd jobs around the facility, such as completing exterior work and some insulation, but nothing people will see.

“It will be really exciting to see where we’ll be in the next few months,” she said.

The renovations created a more efficient and cleaner space to provide services. Food Pantry Coordinator Anita D. Ciulo said the move of the food pantry from the basement to the first floor is a greatly needed change.

“It’s easier to keep clean and easier to keep the shelves stocked,” Mrs. Ciulo said.

She said the food pantry in the Urban Mission is the third largest of the 11-county region served by the Food Bank of Central New York. She said an average of 500 families use their services every month, and sometimes they see as many as 50 families a day.

The Rev. Melodie Long, an Urban Mission board member who toured the facility, said, “It’s amazing even from when we were here a month ago how much this has grown.”

The nonprofit has gone from six individual offices and three work stations to 14 private offices. Mrs. Flint said the updated facility and layout will allow all of the Urban Mission services to be operated under one roof and offer those who are in need of services more comfort and confidentiality.

Aside from the Impossible Dream Thrift Store the Urban Mission provides five major programs, including the food pantry, the critical needs program, the Bridge Program, the Christian Care Center and the HEARTH II Program, Mrs. Flint said. Other programs provided include Food $en$e, Dollar Dinners, the St. Dismas Fund and community service supervision.

Mrs. Flint said that with the new entrance on the side of the building, people will have a spacious place to be welcomed and directed to any services they need.

“Basically every inch of this building has been touched in some way,” said Mrs. Flint. “We now have an area where people can come in, and when they come in for services, they want confidentiality during the intake process.”

Michael C. Miller, CEO of MLW Consultants Inc., Syracuse, said that he has volunteered his consulting services to the Urban Mission for the past three years, and that being able to come to see the final product of everyone’s hard work was an amazing experience.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Mr. Miller said, “The sense of community is what allowed this to be possible.”

Milton E. Stroup, a Cape Vincent artist, carved more than two dozen wooden plaques with the different variations of the group’s nine-point star that commemorate different community sponsors. He said the work of the people in the Urban Mission has been commendable and he feels privileged to have worked with them and to watch the development of the facility.

“When people come in here, they’re never under the best circumstances,” Mr. Stroup said. “It takes a special person to do this job, and they’ve worked really hard.”

 

By Katherine Clark Ross

Goulds sell Shuler’s Restaurant after running it nearly three decades

To say they have chemistry is putting it lightly.

Herbert E. and Margaret R. Gould have worked side by side for 29 years as the owners of Shuler’s Restaurant — the husband running the kitchen while his wife served diners. On Friday, they’ll do that for the final time, as they have decided to sell the restaurant at 802 Mill St. to Watertown businessmen Jason A. Tanner and Terry R. Williams, who will take over the business on Saturday.

The 80-seat restaurant has been a fixture on the city’s north side since 1936, when it opened as Baker’s Barbecue. Before that a gas station operated there.

Though the new owners might make minor changes later, the name will stay the same, said Mr. Tanner, who is the branch manager of the KeyBank downtown. Shuler’s will still offer catering, and all 15 employees will keep their jobs, he said. Seafood, prime rib and chicken parmesan will remain staples.

Mr. Tanner, who has owned a Watertown real estate firm with Mr. Williams since 2008, said the business partners decided to buy the restaurant this fall when the Goulds presented the opportunity. “It’s something that both of our families have always talked about and wanted to do,” he said. “Herb and Margaret had built such a great legacy over the last 30 years and reputation, and we kind of hated the thought of it ever closing and wanted to make sure we stepped in and continued their tradition. They’ve built such a great menu, and we plan to continue on with what they have in place. There won’t be any changes right away, but there could be some minor ones later on.”

Mr. Williams, who could not be reached late Tuesday for comment, will oversee daily operations of the restaurant. In September, Mr. Williams retired from the state Department of Transportation after serving for more than 30 years as a safety officer based in Watertown, Mr. Tanner said.

Employees and diners at the restaurant Monday said they’ll miss the Goulds, whom they described as an energetic couple who led by example by doing much of the labor themselves. Joseph W. Simmons, assistant manager at Shuler’s, said he worked alongside Mr. Gould cooking seafood since 1999. He said Mr. Gould took pride in making sure every dish was cooked to perfection — whether it was lobster, scallops, shrimp or haddock.

“He taught me how to cook, and he had a lot of pride in his work,” Mr. Simmons said. “We broil our seafood in lemon wine and use three seasonings.”

The Goulds are natives of the town of Rutland who knew each other as youngsters attending Copenhagen schools. Mr. Gould, 66, said his passion for the restaurant industry began as a high school graduate with his first job as a waiter at the Partridge Berry Inn in Watertown. After serving in the Army from 1968 to 1970 during the Vietnam War, Mr. Gould returned to the north country and married Mrs. Gould in 1972. He worked as the manager of a Ponderosa restaurant in Syracuse until 1977, when the couple bought Land & Sea Restaurant in Black River and operated the upscale seafood establishment for six years.

When the couple bought Shuler’s in 1985 from Charles F. Williamson, they introduced a wide range of seafood to the menu, Mr. Gould said. “We’re different from the chain restaurants because we bread our own seafood,” he said. “Most chains get their seafood pre-breaded, and it’s going to be only 50 percent fish and the rest bread. Ours is 90 percent fish and only 10 percent bread.”

Mrs. Gould, 63, said loyal customers have enabled the north side restaurant to survive in the city, where national franchises have popped up year after year. She said three couples have eaten at the restaurant every Friday for the past 25 years: John P. and Pamela Astafan, William and Judy Curtis, and Ernie Waite and Gina Marie Astafan.

“I know about three-quarters of the customers who come in here every day,” she said. “And if they’re new, I always try to meet them and see if they come back.”

Dining at Shuler’s on Monday night were Brian F. and Andrea L. Hurteau of Theresa and their 10-month-old son, Brody A. The couple said they heard the Goulds were selling the restaurant and decided to visit before it changed hands. The couple said they like the low-key atmosphere.

“I’ve been coming here since I was 12 years old,” Mrs. Hurteau said. “It’s more of a family atmosphere as opposed to a Texas Roadhouse.”

Her husband agreed: “I like that it’s not over by I-81 where the hustle and bustle is,” he said, adding that he enjoys the haddock and prime rib.

Jennifer L. Clark, a waitress, was hired by the Goulds three months ago but has dined here since her youth. “I’ve been eating here my whole live, and my family loves the chicken parmesan here,” the Watertown resident said. “I’ve always tried to get a job here, but it was hard because none of the employees ever left.”

The loyalty of employees and family members of the Goulds was demonstrated in November 2009, when Mr. Gould was hospitalized for about a month after suffering a heart attack while hunting. He was in a coma for 12 days, Mrs. Gould said, becoming teary-eyed as she recalled how people volunteered to work at the restaurant.

“Former employees and family members came in to work,” she said. “I didn’t even have to ask — they just showed up.”

The restaurant was known as Howard’s until it was bought by David L. and Glenna R. Shuler, who operated it from 1968 to 1976. The Shulers sold it to Peter L. Clough and Richard N. DeGon, who operated it until filing for bankruptcy in 1984 and selling it at a foreclosure auction. Mr. Williamson bought the restaurant in January 1985, owning it less than a year before selling it to the Goulds.

The Goulds, both seafood aficionados, plan to dine at Shuler’s often during their retirement. They also plan to visit their grandchildren in California, Florida and Washington.

Although they have decided it’s time to slow down, they said they’ll miss working together at the Mill Street hub.

“We’ve been working six days a week our whole lives, 70 hours a week,” Mr. Gould said. “When you work that long together, you have to have chemistry.”

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

Jefferson County considers foreclosing on Evans Mills property as cleanup cost grows

To foreclose on a tax-troubled North Main Street property in the village, Jefferson County soon will choose either to pay the state Department of Environmental Conservation about $160,000 for clearing it of contamination, or wait for the state to claw back that cost from the property owner.

The county is deliberating its options after the state took action in early October by hiring a contractor to clean up soil contamination and remove a pair of underground gas tanks at the three-acre lot, which has buildings occupied by tenants at 8728 and 8740 N. Main St.

Tenants lease apartments from Mark T. Brand, the property’s presumed legal owner, who owes the county $220,551 in property taxes and water and sewer bills dating back to 1992. Mr. Brand — a former Indian River school board member who has been superintendent of Indian Lake Central School District in Hamilton County since 2003 — has argued that he is not the legal owner of the property and admitted that he throws the tax bills away.

Eggan Environmental Services of Rome last week finished clearing out about 2,000 tons of contamination from the site, where a gas station once operated, said Gary P. McCullouch, DEC regional spill engineer. The DEC initially projected the project would cost $100,000 or less, but that total climbed when more contamination than expected was found, he said.

The DEC decided to clean up the property this fall after the county considered doing so on its own. In the spring, the county conducted an environmental assessment to determine whether it could be affordable to clean up the lot and foreclose on it.

Mr. McCullouch said that if the county decides to foreclose on the property, the DEC would be willing to negotiate to reduce the price of the cleanup that the county would be obligated to pay. He could not estimate how much the total project cost could be reduced.

“In a case like this, if the municipality steps in and wants to acquire the property and resolve the liabilities that are there, they can negotiate something with the DEC. That’s done on a case-by-case basis, and there are a lot of factors involved,” Mr. McCullouch said.

The DEC’s funding for the project was secured from the New York Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund.

If the county decides not to take over the property, the state attorney general’s office will decide who will pay for the cleanup, Mr. McCullouch said. In some cases, former owners of contaminated properties are held responsible for the cost.

“The state is trying to get as much money back as possible. But more importantly, there’s a philosophy that the polluter has to pay for the pollution that’s there,” he said. “There’s always an attempt to recover money from the discharger — or at least a portion of it.”

Officials have said Mr. Brand probably would be targeted by the attorney general’s office for the cleanup cost. The North Main Street property was bought in 1985 by Romark Construction Co., Inc., whose principals were Mark and Robin L. Brand. The Evans Mills couple bought the property from John E. Bevens, who operated a gas station there. Romark went bankrupt in 1996 and dissolved in 2001. The county, meanwhile, continues to send tax bills to Romark, which has an Indian Lake post office address in care of Mr. Brand.

According to Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen, the Brands presumably became the owners of the property in 2001 when they voluntarily decided to dissolve the corporation. When shareholders dissolve a corporation “by proclamation” under state Corporate Business Law, as the Brands did, they usually assume ownership of the corporation’s assets.

COVERING CLEANUP COST

County officials are anxious to foreclose on the property, but only if they can sell it for more than the cost of the environmental cleanup. And they’re anxious for a good reason: Until it forecloses, the county will continue to be responsible for paying property taxes and water and sewer bills assessed by the village, along with property taxes assessed by the town of LeRay and the Indian River Central School District.

The county’s stressed property committee will meet this morning to discuss its strategy for potentially foreclosing on the property to get it back on the tax roll, said committee Chairman Robert D. Ferris, a member of the Board of Legislators. He said the county will probably seek to negotiate down the DEC’s cleanup price to a figure that would enable the property to be sold on the market for a greater amount. The property was assessed by the county this year at $175,300.

Depending on the environmental cost, “we’ll decide if we want to go after it and foreclose on it,” Mr. Ferris said Monday. “I think it’s a marketable property that I wouldn’t put through a tax auction, but put through a Realtor to sell. I think the property could be worth doing it, but we’re going to push forward and find out.”

The committee will probably decide to hire a Realtor to conduct an appraisal of the property to find out how much it would be valued at on the market with a “clean bill of health” from the DEC, Mr. Ferris said.

Mr. Ferris said the attorney general’s office would probably have a challenging time compelling Mr. Brand to pay for the environmental cleanup. Yet the county could decide to pursue that course if the committee agrees the cleanup would be too costly.

“I wouldn’t see Mr. Brand paying for the environmental cost, because he still owes us the back taxes and we’d foreclose on it,” he said. “But it would be awesome if the state came in and said, ‘Mr. Brand, you need to pay us within 30 days.’ Hopefully we’ll have all of the options laid out by our attorney, and sometimes sitting and waiting is the best option. What we want is for Mark Brand to clean the property up and pay the taxes he owes to make us whole, but it’s highly unlikely that’s an achievable goal.”

Paul J. Warneck, director of Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services, said Monday that the county’s decision will depend on how low the environmental cleanup cost of the property can be negotiated down. If the DEC is unwilling to negotiate, it would be cost-prohibitive to pay DEC’s $160,000; the county would be better off waiting for the state attorney general’s office to claw back funding from Mr. Brand, he said.

“I think we need to try to negotiate some sort of settlement on the cleanup, and then move forward with marketing the property and get an appraisal to determine where the numbers are going to fall,” said Mr. Warneck, who attends meetings held by the stressed property committee. “We won’t know what number we would be willing to pay until we have a good idea on what the market value of that property is going to be.”

Other members of the committee are Scott A. Gray and James A. Nabywaniec, both county legislators.

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

City to hold public auction for vacant houses, lots and industrial building

The city will hold a public auction on Nov. 5 to try to sell two houses, a dozen vacant properties and the tax sale certificate for a vacant industrial building off West Main Street.

It’s the first time in a couple of years that the city has tried to get rid of any houses or structures, City Comptroller James E. Mills said.

The comptroller’s office will start the bidding off with minimal bids, $1,000 each for the structures and varying amounts for the different sized vacant lots, Mr. Mills said. The City Council has the final approval for any of the sales.

In June, there were no takers for the tax sale certificate for the former GLV Black Clawson Co. Inc. paper research center at 591 Rear West Main St., a two-story, nearly 15,000-square-foot cinder block structure that sits the JRC Product building, 595 W. Main St.

“It’s in pretty good shape,” Mr. Mills said, noting it has riverfront access.

Delinquent owners have two years after a tax sale to redeem their properties before the owners of the tax sale certificates can request to take ownership of the properties. It’s already gone through that two-year process and the city does not want to become its owner, Mr. Mills said.

Purchased in 2006 for $100,000, the building is owned by Watertown Properties Inc., Chatham, N.J., which has neglected the property for years, Code Enforcement officials said. When it was still occupied, Black Clawson used the building to test its paper for quality. A dilapidated blue awning still identifies that the building once was owned by the paper manufacturer.

It has sat vacant for years and has become a troublesome property, with people sometimes entering the building without the owner’s permission, city officials said.

About five years ago, a businessman operated a tire recycling business, where tires were shredded. A large heap of tires are piled up inside a barn on the property.

Zoned light industrial, the building and its 4.33 acres is currently assessed at $237,700.

The current owner owes $32,068.94 in city, school and Jefferson County back taxes. The new owner would also pay a yearly assessment to the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District because the property has river access, Mr. Mills said.

Two deteriorating houses are also going up for auction on Nov. 5. They are a single-family house at 739 W. Main St. and a two-family house at 115 St. Mary St. The city foreclosed on the two houses for back taxes.

Council members put them on the public auction list because they want them to remain on the tax rolls.

The inside of the West Main Street house is full of junk and has a severe flea infestation. The St. Mary Street house is loaded with debris, city officials said, and toilet facilities apparently were used after the city turned the water off.

The buyers at the auction would be required to pay for the cleanup, Mr. Mills said.

“They are sold as is,” he said.

The city will be holding walkthroughs of the two homes this week, Mr. Mills said. The open house for 739 W. Main St. is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Wednesday and 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Thursday and from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Wednesday and 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Thursday for 115 St. Mary St.

The vacant lots are at: 100, 101, 103, 169 and 618 Alexandria Ave.; 507 Cross St.; VL, VL-1 and VL-2 Mather St.; 36 Stuart St.; and 59 and 60 Woodley St.

The public auction starts at 6 p.m. Nov. 5 in the third-floor council chambers of City Hall, 245 Washington St.

 

By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer

Arsenal Street Diner up for sale after opening last summer

Arsenal Street Diner, which opened in August 2013 at a former Pizza Hut building between two auto shops, has been put up for sale by owner Phillip T. Kane for “personal reasons.”

Mr. Kane, who spent more than two years renovating the building at 821 Arsenal St. after leasing it in 2011, asserted Wednesday that his decision to put the building up for sale “had nothing to do with traffic or customers.” The building is owned by investment firm KAD Realty LLC, Alexandria Bay.

The business was listed for sale Oct. 18 by Sutton Real Estate Co. of Syracuse on behalf of Mr. Kane. As the leaseholder of the building, Mr. Kane would sell the building’s equipment and lease agreement to its new owner under the transaction. A sale price was not disclosed by Sutton in the listing.

“Business has been really good here. We have a lot of really good customers and are always picking up new ones. But the reason we’re selling it has nothing to do with the business — there are personal reasons,” said Mr. Kane on Wednesday, declining to provide further details about the decision.

The business opened with 11 full-time and six part-time employees, but it is now staffed by seven part-time employees, Mr. Kane said. He said it will remain open until it is sold by another restaurateur, which he hopes will happen “as soon as possible.” The homestyle restaurant — open seven days a week — has drawn the most traffic on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, he said.

“Monday is the slowest day of the week, and every day is a different adventure,” Mr. Kane said. “September is always a slow month for us, but that was expected.”

Before the 2,600-square-foot diner opened in the summer of last year, Mr. Kane told the Times he spent more than two years gutting its interior and installing new kitchen appliances. He did not disclose how much was invested in those renovations.

Robert C. Nelson, associate broker for Sutton, said Wednesday that several prospective buyers have already expressed interest in taking over the fully-equipped restaurant, which has seating for 84 diners. He said the real estate firm will also be advertising the business to regional and national restaurant franchises.

“We’re less than a week into this and we’ve already gotten inquires,” Mr. Nelson said. “And we’re not surprised, because there’s always a lot of interest in food and beverage opportunities like this. This is a truly turnkey operation with all of the furniture and equipment in it. It allows a buyer to come in for a low initial investment and walk into a business that has an immediate income.”

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer

Attendance flat at Boldt Castle for 2014 season

Attendance levels at Boldt Castle were relatively flat for the 2014 season, dropping slightly from the previous year.

The 2014 season ended with 184,683 visits, down 1.5 percent from the 2013 tally of 187,485.

Shane K. Sanford, the castle’s facilities director, pinpointed poor weather during key summer weekends for some of the dip.

“Given the less-than-ideal summer conditions, and being off about a day and a half’s business, I think we did well,” he said.

Mr. Sanford also attributed some of the dip to an early Labor Day holiday, which some mark as an end of the summer, but said the holiday would come later next year, which should give a bounce for next year’s tally.

One positive pointed out by Mr. Sanford was that gift and food sales at the site were improved for the season, perhaps a sign of activity when people got to the castle grounds.

Among the major projects during the 2014 season was the launch of work at the Alster Tower, also known as the “Children’s Playhouse,” along with masonry work at the castle’s Cistern Tower.

The Cistern Tower project will continue next year with improvements in its stone and masonry.

Work at the Alster Tower, closed for three years prior to the start of the project, will move forward next year starting with its billiards room. The Alster Tower project is expected to take about four to five years to complete, and cost the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority at least $1 million.

Development at the site, Mr. Sanford said, was one of the best ways they have found to keep people interested and bring them back to Heart Island.

“They want to see the improvements from their last visit,” he said.

 

By Gordon Block, Times Staff Writer

School district urges city to solve traffic problems at Knickerbocker School

City Councilman Stephen A. Jennings is convinced that a hazardous situation exists in front of Knickerbocker Elementary School whenever parents drop off or pick up their children from school.

Traffic gets congested with vehicles stopping, children crossing Knickerbocker Drive and school buses entering and leaving school property along the narrow two-way street, he said.

“It’s a hazard every morning and afternoon,” Mr. Jennings said.

At the request of Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick, the City Council informally agreed Monday night to have the city Engineering Office conduct a traffic study of the area. The school district would like the city either to make Knickerbocker Drive a one-way street or determine whether establishing a one-way private road on school property would be a better solution.

Though the concerns are not new, school officials met about two weeks ago to discuss the situation with representatives from the city. Mr. Jennings, whose children attend the school for children in kindergarten through fourth grade, was asked to participate after a school board member approached him to ask if the city would look into the matter,

City Public Works Superintendent Eugene P. Hayes recalled that the city studied the issue in 2006, but a single resident in that neighborhood complained it would be inconvenient for neighbors if the street were made a one-way road. Nothing happened after that, he said.

Much of the problem is caused by the narrow width of the street and so much vehicular and pedestrian traffic coming all at once, Mr. Hayes said.

On Monday night, the other council members were surprised to hear that the issue was coming up again. They also did not realize that City Manager Sharon A. Addison, interim City Engineer Justin Wood, Mr. Hayes and Mr. Jennings met with the school board’s Public Relation/Transportation Committee about it.

But parents started approaching Mr. Jennings about the traffic congestion as soon as he was elected last fall, he told council members.

He said he has heard that children have actually been hit by vehicles, but fortunately not injured because the vehicles were moving slowly, he said.

“Children run out in front of cars,” he said.

School officials indicated they want to work with the city on solving the problem, Mr. Hayes said. But council members expressed concerns about getting too involved in the issue when neighbors may end up not wanting Knickerbocker Drive turned into a one-way street.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham also warned it could be an expensive project if the city has to turn Knickerbocker Drive into a one-way street. He also stressed the city Planning Board would have to get involved and neighbors must have a say.

Ultimately, it would be a City Council decision, he said.

“For most of us, it’s a problem only because we get a letter,” he said.

The letter was sent from Mr. Fralick to the city on the advice of city staff. He was told to make a formal request for the city to look into the matter, Mr. Hayes said.

 

By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer

NNY hospitals continuously review Ebola guidelines, prepare for potential cases

All north country hospitals are educating staff on how to protect themselves from potential Ebola infections and prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

But it takes practice, skill and patience to properly don and remove personal protective equipment for that or other hospital-acquired infections.

“We’re really looking out for our safety,” said Wendy D. Henry, nurse manager at , who led a recent training session.

At Samaritan, hair should be pulled up, all jewelry taken off, then surgical leg covers and a waterproof gown put on, followed by a mask that covers the mouth and nose and a face shield.

“We don’t want anything to splash up in our mucus membranes,” Mrs. Henry said, because an exchange of bodily fluids is how the Ebola virus spreads.

Once the shield is on, other personal protective equipment includes a surgical hood and two pairs of surgical gloves that go over the cuffs of the gown to avoid potential skin-to-skin contact. The only visible skin on intensive care unit registered nurse Debra A. Sheridan and employee health registered nurse Kristin E. Worden was the neckline.

A special gel was put on their hands to show the possibility of potential contamination.

Mrs. Henry said the first step to removing equipment is to sanitize hands after coming out of the room. Fifteen seconds of “vigorous scrubbing,” is encouraged for all Samaritan employees for that step. Then, the first set of gloves is taken off, hands are sanitized again, then booties are untied, slid down and put in trash receptacle. Sanitize. The second set of gloves is removed from the inside out. Sanitize. Staffers then are expected to untie their hood, bring it around from the back to take it off where it isn’t potentially contaminated, sanitize again, remove the face shield from the back, sanitize again and then remove the gown by untying the waist first and then the neck and rolling the gown forward away from oneself. Sanitize. The last step is to remove the mask from the strap in back. Hands then should be washed with soap and water.

CDC RECOMMENDATIONS COMING

This isn’t how all hospitals don and remove personal protective equipment, but Karen A. Abare, registered nurse and Samaritan’s infection preventionist, said she suspects sanitizing after each step may become a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ll do immediate training upon any change in recommendation,” she said.

According to the CDC’s website, as of Saturday, specific “PPE recommendations are forthcoming,” but there are related guidelines for infection control, visitors, hand hygiene and patient placement, among other suggestions.

Little tweaks in those categories, whether by the CDC, the state Department of Health or the World Health Organization, happen frequently, sometimes daily. Hospital staff throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties constantly review that information. Samaritan and other Northern New York hospitals are staying on top of guidelines and recommendations for Ebola preparation from the CDC, the Health Department and the WHO.

Samaritan’s drill was spot on, as both Mrs. Worden and Mrs. Sheridan were 100 percent contamination-free, as a black light showed not even one drop on the two nurses. They removed their equipment perfectly.

“I’d rather be prepared,” Mrs. Sheridan said. “It makes you nervous because you don’t want to have to (treat Ebola). We don’t mind (practicing) multiple times.”

It’s not just about Ebola, Mrs. Abare said. The equipment donning and removal session is given for all new Samaritan hires. This round just may be more specific, or tailored to Ebola.

As protocols change, the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association will share updates. All three associations issued a joint statement last week on how a “collaborative approach to Ebola preparedness is essential to effectively manage care of Ebola patients in the U.S.”

“We are committed to ensuring that nurses, physicians and all frontline health care providers have the proper training, equipment and protocols to remain safe and provide the highest quality care for the patient,” the joint statement read.

When a Times reporter reached out to Service Employees International Union Local 1199 for comment on Ebola preparations and regulations, Vice President Kathleen M. Tucker referred comment to Chelsea-Lyn Rudder, New York City, press secretary for SEIU. The union represents dietary and housekeeping staff, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians and unit coordinators. Ms. Rudder was unavailable via cellphone Sunday.

Evolving preparedness plans

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo designated eight hospitals last week to treat Ebola patients, the closest one being Upstate Medical University, Syracuse. The state Department of Health, meanwhile, issued an order that requires all hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers and ambulance services throughout the state to follow all protocols for people who present with Ebola. North country hospitals stand ready to accept potential Ebola patients, and anyone else who walks through their doors.

Meanwhile, at River Hospital, Alexandria Bay, Dr. Alfredo Torres, director of inpatient care, said some staff members there think the CDC and other governmental health organizations should be doing more to help protect health care workers to avoid potential Ebola contamination and its spread.

Some people, he said, have been running scared. Should they be?

“Yes,” he said. “This is bad stuff. It would not be out of the question we get someone with Ebola or an Ebola scare.”

That is because River Hospital could accept patients brought in by the Border Patrol, any shipping crews coming through the St. Lawrence River or international visitors.

“We go through this every year with the flu season,” Dr. Torres said. “We’ve all gone through H1N1, SARS, and we’re prepared for TB. Our hospital is ready. We’re refreshing people so we’re super-ready.”

Ebola has a 50 to 90 percent death rate. There is no treatment. Confirmed Ebola patients are given IV fluids and supportive care. There have been a few cases nationally, but none in the north country or elsewhere in New York. An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed the lives of about 4,000 people this year.

Dr. Torres said since Ebola tests may be negative for up to three days, patients often are kept in isolation and then retested as a precaution.

“I’ve got goose bumps,” one River Hospital employee said during an in-service Ebola-related training last week. “It freaks me out.”

The best thing everyone can do, health care workers and the public alike, Dr. Torres said, is to read credible information from the CDC and World Health Organization. Staying informed is the best way to learn, he said.

By Rebecca Madden, Times Staff Writer

Professionals enjoy business chat at networking expo in Watertown

It didn’t take long for Russell K. Berger to strike up a business conversation Wednesday during the Business Networking Expo at the Bruce M. Wright Memorial Conference Center.

Mr. Berger, who stood at a booth representing the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, was approached by a gentleman who asked about the possibility of starting a cake decorating class at the Charles H. Bohlen Technical Center in Watertown. Mr. Berger said he plans to explore the possibility of starting the class at the center. He called the conversation an example of the essence of networking.

“If we have enough students with a single interest and can get an instructor for a program, we would do it,” said Mr. Berger, principal of the center.

Mr. Berger was among 65 exhibitors at the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce annual expo, sponsored this year by Samaritan Medical Center and cosponsored by Renzi Foodservice.

Situated at his booth were pamphlets advertising night classes offered for working adults at the center — manufacturing technology, adult cosmetology and carpeting installation. The manufacturing course was started last year in response to demand for skilled workers at New York Air Brake in Watertown, he said. Some of the students who attended the course last year were production workers at Air Brake who wanted to advance their careers.

“Air Brake came to us and said they had a need for skilled machinists,” Mr. Berger said. “For us it’s all about networking. If you’re in the business of providing students with experience for the real world of work, you have to connect with people in the real world of work to find out what they need.”

Kristin J. Boule, director of marketing for Westelcom, said she meets existing clients and potential new ones at the expo. She has conversations with people, for example, about how the company can launch cloud-based telephone networks for businesses with advanced features. For instance, professionals can check their voicemail messages using a smartphone app by using a system that operates “on the cloud,” she said.

Mrs. Boule said the expo offers an ideal venue to have those conversations about products offered by Westelcom, which has locations in Watertown and Plattsburgh.

“There aren’t that many places that have a forum to do business-to-business networking,” she said.

Linda A. Morrison, a real estate broker for Exit More Real Estate of Watertown, did some recruiting at the expo. Mrs. Morrison said she was inspired to become a broker for Exit More after talking with agents from the firm two years ago at the networking expo. On Wednesday, she did some inspiring of her own.

“I used to be an office secretary, but after I attended the expo and talked with agents I decided to do this full-time,” she said. “You can do real estate part-time and still do your regular jobs. Some agents are nurses and teachers who do real estate on the side.”

Peter J. Whitmore, a franchisee of multiple Jreck Subs restaurants in the area, said he attended the expo to “get a pulse” on the hiring climate in the north country.

“I want to get a feel for the employment trend and gauge the business climate,” he said, adding that he’d probably talk to most of the exhibitors. “I’m asking people how potential cuts at Fort Drum could impact their hiring strategies and finding out when they’re hiring. Some of them are competing for people in my labor market” at Jreck Subs.

A first-year exhibitor at the expo was Bradley’s Trophy & Promotion shop of Evans Mills. Grant S. Palmer, a graphic design artist for the business, said he makes customized plaques for customers. At the booth were plaques designed for employee awards and gifts for executives, including a wine case with a company logo.

Along with serving businesses, the company often designs plaques for members of the military, Mr. Palmer said. The trophy shop is part of Bradley’s Military Surplus store.

“I recently made a plaque to mount a hatchet, and we’ve also done spent artillery shells and had the pieces mounted,” he said.

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer