Saturday, October 24, 2009

Golf House at Victoria Pool, circa 1940's.

For those new here a little reprise of recent Victoria Pool history.


Making waves
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "maintenance" as "the upkeep of property or equipment."
Sunday, August 24, 2003


Sadly, when it comes to New York State's handling of Spa State Park, and Victoria Pool in particular, the definition of "neglect" - "to give little attention or respect to; to leave undone or unattended to especially through carelessness" - seems more appropriate.

When Victoria Pool was constructed in 1934, no expense was spared. State-of-the-art equipment was installed and the pool was a benchmark for technology, efficiency and elegance. A battery of four large sand filters re-circulated the pool's 260,000 gallons of water every 5 1/4 hours.

Glistening fieldstone lay around the then-tiled pool, and lion-head fountains poured forth crystal clear water into awaiting basins below. Manicured shrubbery lined the grassy borders, and brilliant flowers edged the concrete runways.

Surrounded by its arched promenades adjoining majestic grand rooms, Victoria Pool rightly earned the title of "most beautiful pool in America." There was no questioning why it became a haven for celebrities like Al Jolson, Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Ethel Barrymore, Gloria Swanson and Fay Wray, just to name a few. In short, it was befitting Saratoga Springs.

But that was then. Today, things look a little different. Luckily, there are still 260,000 gallons of water circulating through four filters. Actually, make that three. According to recently retired plant utilities engineer Jim Gilchrist, one filter stopped working in the late '90s and was never repaired. Sadder still, they are the filters that were installed in 1934.

The lion-head fountains haven't worked in so long that pool goers like Louise Goldstein, who has literally been a regular since she was born in 1940, can't even remember when the fountains stopped spouting.

The masonry surrounding the pool is crumbling to the point where the word "hazard" is bantered about regularly; the slate roof is in need of repair; the limestone steps are beginning to look like do-it-yourself kits; dirt and grime cover the grand columns; random shrubbery is ugly at best and half-alive at worst (but it does help hide the crumbing infrastructure) And, until a couple weeks ago, trees were growing out of the tops of the surrounding building's chimneys. (Note the word 'sapling' was not used in that sentence.)

Add to that a clock face without hands, seriously peeling paint on the light poles and a ceiling in the locker room that might come down and knock someone unconscious at any minute, and it makes you wonder, if that's the stuff we can see, what else is wrong with this place?

Just last week, a 1934 state-of-the-art chlorination pipe burst, forcing both Peerless Pool and Victoria Pool to close.

Earlier this year, Niagara Mohawk red-tagged (shut off due to extreme hazard) the "gas room" at the Victoria Pool complex when alerted by a park plumber. According to Gilchrist, who was in charge of the park's pools for 22 years, park management had known about the leak for months, but failed to act.

"We have a meter that was probably put in 1934, and the piping is four-inch welded pipe which was deteriorating right before your eyes," Gilchrist said. "You could go in and hit it and knock off chunks. It got to a point where you could actually smell the gas every time you walked into the room."

NiMo subsequently shut it down, according to Gilchrist. "Hypothetically, someone could have been killed," he said.

That convinced Goldstein, along with fellow pool lover Andrew Jennings, to form the "Save the Victoria Pool Society," a group dedicated to the pool's preservation.

The organization is trying to persuade state officials to put real money behind the restoration and to put pressure on park management to "do what they're supposed to do - keep our park beautiful," says Goldstein. So far, they've met with representatives from Senator Joe Bruno's office, State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco and local officials.

"We are afraid it is going to be lost forever," Goldstein said. "Victoria Pool is a national treasure. There seems to be a total lack of concern by park management toward the physical plant and cosmetic structure. Nothing has been done for years. I have gone over (to the administration offices) in good faith every year and was told 'We are going to fix it' or 'We are going to do a study.' Being a naive and trusting person, I kept waiting, and things just got worse," she said.

Last summer, park administrators told employees overtime was no longer allowed. That meant any extra time needed for repairs or even regular maintenance was forbidden.

"Due to overtime restrictions, maintenance at Victoria Pool has been virtually nil," Gilchrist said. "In years past, the pool was backwashed weekly. Last year, it went the entire year without a backwash. You should have seen it. It looked like a chocolate milkshake coming out of there. Management made the decision there would be no overtime - for anything."

Such decisions leave many wondering if management (on any level) is capable of operating what the Deputy Commissioner of Upstate Operations and Resource Management Group Dominic J. Jacangelo called "the flagship of the park system" during a recent meeting with the "Save the Victoria Pool Society."

The meeting also included Regional Director Donald Kasprzak, (title) Assistant Regional Director Cheryl Gold and Facilities Manager Connie Hyatt. It should be noted that during the same meeting, Jacangelo said that the pool's showers were "disgusting" and that he wouldn't use them himself.

"I have taken management over there myself and shown them (the damage)," Gilchrist said. "Their response was to 'Go to engineering.' It's like talking to a wall. If you look at the brickwork over the gymnasium where the balconies are, it started spaulding like that five or six years ago. (Spaulding is when water gets behind the brickwork and pushes out the masonry.) That's when it's really getting bad. And that's because no maintenance was done on a leaky roof. They (the management) all know it. We tell them it's a hazard because the public likes to lay on the lawn there and sunbathe - and if one of those stones hits them - (the stones are) pretty heavy."

The continued inaction by the park to repair can also be tied directly to the park system's desire to streamline through attrition. Whereas the park used to have eight full-time plumbers, they now have one. You don't need any fingers to count the qualified trades people for the park. What few people they do have are spread too thin and, according to Gilchrist, those in charge "just don't care."

"You have to point a finger at management," Gilchrist said. "All of the people in maintenance were aware of what was going on. But there is nothing (they) can do. So management is totally at fault. Take those dogwood bushes below the French door areas. I requested two years ago to pull those out of there so we could paint that area up and make it look nice again. They (park management) said we couldn't do that because they didn't have a plan as to what type of bushes they were putting in there. (The dogwood bushes) look like hell and attract the small beesand management told me not to touch them. I had the boys from McGregor down there who would have pulled them right out, but I was denied."

The dogwood bushes are still there. But, aAccording to Wendy Gibson, spokesperson for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, immediate renovation plans for the pool include "electrical upgrades and the first phase of the rehabilitation of the Victorian Pool masonry, including replacing limestone steps; slate and metal roof repairs; reconstruction and reappointing of brickwork; partial roof replacement and repairs to the ceiling.

"During the coming off-season, we will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital repairs and in-house major maintenance items at the pool. Pool patrons should see a much improved facility next summer. These capital projects and a number of aesthetic-type projects being completed in-house will be under way immediately after the season (early fall) and will be completed prior to the opening of the pool's 2004 season," Gibson said.

So, who are we to believe - a park service that has avoided maintenance issues for years, or park employees and patrons who have not only witnessed the degradation of the pool and surrounding buildings, but asked repeatedly to have something done?

Officials are vague about how much money is earmarked out of the regional park system fund for Spa State Park. Recent reports suggest the "rehabilitation" plans came in at a bid of "slightly more than $173,000."

When you consider that the much newer Peerless Pool Complex was recently renovated at a cost of approximately $2 million, it makes you wonder what can really be accomplished for that amount.

Granted, Peerless is a much larger complex than Victoria but, by Gibson's own acknowledgment, it differs by "the historic nature of the Victoria complex and the issues related to the surrounding historic structures."

For a $173,000 budget, we should probably get used to the dogwood bushes.

To learn more about the "Save the Victoria Pool Society," e-mail or write to: Save the Victoria Pool Society, P.O. Box 65, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Victory for Victoria Pool society
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Advocates for Victoria Pool are pleased with the nearly $647,000 federal grant coming to Saratoga Spa State Park as part of the state's $1.5 million renovation of historic pool over the next two years.
Thursday, April 22, 2004


Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Rep. John Sweeney announced the grant Tuesday. Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, represents Saratoga County.

Bernadette Castro, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, announced the renovation in December in response to complaints that the pool was not being kept up.

'We're very pleased because we didn't know it was coming, and we didn't know it was part of the $1.5 million,' Louise Goldstein, co-founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, said Wednesday.

The $646,801 grant is from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Goldstein said she's seen a lot of construction going on at the pool.

'We see wonderful things,' she said. 'A lot is happening. The workers are there. It's really a construction site now. It's a dream come true, and we feel that time will no longer stand still at the Victoria Pool as it has for a long, long time.'

The first phase of construction, which includes electrical upgrades, masonry, roof repairs and enhanced landscape design, should be complete by June.

Victoria Pool, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened in 1934 as the first heated pool in the country, is scheduled to open for the season in mid-June.

'The Victoria Pool is such an important part of the summer culture here in our city,' Mayor Michael Lenz said. 'We are very much looking forward to seeing this local treasure restored.'

By June 2005, phase two will be completed with the new pool deck area, the landscaping with new plants and more lawn area and the exterior rehabilitation of the buildings, Castro has said.

But just because things are looking bright for the 211-gallon pool and its environs does not mean the state has heard the last of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, Goldstein said.

'We see our mission as the whole park,' she said. 'Like Sleeping Beauty, it's been neglected. The pool will hopefully be the most beautiful in America, but we hope the park will be the most beautiful park.'

URL: stories/11365673.prt

© 2009, a Journal Register Property

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saratoga's music scene to soar!

Work nears end on Skidmore's Zankel Music Center
Published: Saturday, October 17, 2009

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The music center’s new auditorium is equipped with 600 additional seats. (ERICA MILLER/The Saratogian)

West shows guests one of the center’s practice rooms, which employ heavy doors to seal in sound. (ERICA MILLER/The Saratogian)

By ANDREW J. BERNSTEIN, The Saratogian

Click to enlarge

Mike West, vice president for finance and administration at Skidmore College, shows off the auditorium inside the college’s new Zankel Music Building, scheduled to open for the spring semester. (ERICA MILLER/The Saratogian)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Although the building will not open until January 2010, students, parents and other members of the tour had a chance to see the inside of Skidmore College’s $32.5 million Zankel Music Center on Friday, as part of the school’s Celebration Weekend.

The building, on which work began in 2007, will be about 90 percent completed when it is ready for students in January, Skidmore College Vice President of Finance and Administration Mike West said to a group of families and students on a tour of the 55,000-square-foot building.

The formal opening and dedication will wait until all the building’s kinks are worked out, and is scheduled for fall 2010, West said.

The new facility, located near the North Broadway entrance to the campus, will replace the aging Filene Hall, and will serve as a home to the campus’s music programs, as well as a venue for community events. The building was funded primarily through a gift from Arthur Zankel, the parent of two Skidmore alumni. Zankel, now deceased, was co-managing partner of High Rise Capital Management, which he founded in 2002.

Previously, he spent 35 years with the investment management firm First Manhattan Co., becoming co-managing partner and senior partner. He is credited with playing a key role in the 1998 merger of Citibank and Travelers Group Insurance Co.

The building was designed as a part of Skidmore’s comprehensive plan in 2001 by Charles Belson, of Philadelphia-based EwingCole Architects. Long before the funds had been secured to build it, the facility won a national award for “unbuilt work.”

Now that the building is preparing for an opening, West said he hoped it would bring Skidmore’s music programs additional prestige.

“To have this building, for this type of school, I think we’ll be in the top 10 percent in this regard,” he said during Friday’s tour.

The building has three wings, each with a separate foundation. To the south is a 600-seat concert hall with a flexible stage to accommodate any kind of musical performance, from a single musician or lecturer to a full orchestra. An additional 100 seats can be added to the stage for some events.

The hall’s most distinctive feature is a soaring glass wall that will give audiences a view of the campus’s South Park. On Friday, fall leaves were clearly visible through the towering wall.

Stretching to the north are faculty offices, practice rooms, classrooms, a recording studio and an acoustically “dead” drum room, as well as circulation spaces.

Beyond the building to the west is a quad formed by the college’s theater and studio arts buildings, as well as the existing music building, which will likely be used for classrooms once Zankel is completed.

The building was constructed with a focus on isolating sounds, leading architects to use 750 tons of structural steel to support thick concrete pillars and walls. Some doors, specifically designed to seal in sound, weigh as much as 600 pounds and rotate down against sound proofing as they close.

Although West, charged primarily with construction, said he was not well versed in plans to make the building available for community events, he said there would be opportunities to give performers coming to SPAC a chance to perform at Skidmore as well.

“If we can offer them another venue, and perhaps have them do some instruction, it could be very good for SPAC as well as us,” he said.


Friday, October 09, 2009

If the Racetrack is to add days maybe the Victoria Pool will open earlier in 2010? Hope springs eternal.

Four more days! NYRA extends Saratoga Race Course meet
Thursday, October 8, 2009

By PAUL POST, The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Local hotel, restaurant and retail store owners are hailing an extension of the Saratoga Race Course meet as a welcome economic boost.

New York Racing Association announced Wednesday that the 2010 meet will open on Friday, July 23, adding four days to a season that will have seven weekends instead of six.

Equally important, the 40-day meet will see the Grade 1 Coaching Club America Oaks, normally run at Belmont Park, moved to the first weekend at Saratoga.

"It’s like manna from heaven," said Kathleen Smith, owner of the 31-room Saratoga Arms on Broadway. "It can only add to the fun."

The extra Grade 1 race will bring more high-profile owners and horsemen to town even earlier, she said.

Related: Saratoga Race Course will feature 40 cards in 2010

"Wow!" said Holiday Inn General Manager Cindy Hollowood, upon hearing the news. "That’s wonderful. I’m very happy about it. It gives people additional opportunities to come to Saratoga. Overall, it will be very good for our community and business."

The 168-room hotel typically sells out on weekends anyway, but having more people in town should boost the economy, she said.

"It’s four more days of great business and increased demand," Hollowood said. "There can’t be anything wrong with that. It’s good for everybody concerned."

John Baker, owner of Gaffney’s Restaurant, said, "I’m very pleased. I know there are concerns about extending the season, but Saratoga is a jewel and NYRA makes their money here so it makes sense to me. I don’t think it will dilute it. I think it’s a great thing, four more days. Saratoga could definitely use it."

The track’s economic impact is felt throughout the region, especially Broadway shops such as Impressions of Saratoga. "

Related: Extending Saratoga a no-brainer

Labor Day is going to be late again next year (Sept. 6), so it will definitely give us an extra shot in the arm," owner Marianne Barker said. "Any little thing helps."

Horsemen, too, see the longer season as a good move.

"The Belmont meet has been such a slow business situation the last couple weeks of July, I can understand their thinking," Hall of Fame trainer LeRoy Jolley said. "Business will certainly be better than business would have been over that same time period at Belmont."

Trainer Gary Contessa said, "Adding four days to the greatest meet in America is a great thing. I love the meet, I love being up there."

Nationwide, wagering on racing was down 12.5 percent this August. Saratoga fared much better, however, even in difficult economic times as all-sources handle was off just 1.7 percent.

"Going into this year’s Saratoga meet, we predicted that wagering would decline approximately 5 percent from last year. We greatly exceeded those expectations," NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward said. "The expansion to four racing days was a measured decision that reflects the overwhelming demand for racing that we have from horsemen in Saratoga. At a time when many tracks in the country had to cut back on racing days, we not only continued to run six days a week at Saratoga, but did so with more horses entered per race as compared to last year."


© 2009, a Journal Register Property

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Saratoga Spa State Park needs more respect and money from its elected representatives.

N.Y., reinvest in state parks


First published: Thursday, October 1, 2009

Filmmaker Ken Burns' six-part series on the national parks airing this week on PBS is bringing lots of attention to America's "best idea" -- its national park system. However, here in New York, we also have a very special park system.
New York's state parks are its crown jewels -- from the seascape at Montauk to the thunder of Niagara, from the forests of Allegany to the explorer's paradise of the Thousand Islands, from the awe-inspiring canyon at Letchworth to the stately grounds of Saratoga Spa. Our system of state parks is also the nation's oldest, dating to the creation of the Niagara Reservation in 1885.

Consisting of 213 parks and historic sites covering 325,000 acres, our state parks preserve priceless landscapes and ecosystems which together add up to an invaluable collection of natural and recreational resources.

A recent Parks & Trails New York study of the economic impact of the state park system found that state parks annually return to the state more than $5 for every $1 invested -- totaling nearly $2 billion in economic benefits.

Another great thing about our state parks: They're close to home. Unlike Yosemite and Yellowstone, state parks are no more than an hour or two from most New Yorkers. In a typical year, more than 55 million people visit our state parks, seeking to reconnect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors.

Despite their myriad benefits, state parks are in jeopardy. They are suffering from decades of underinvestment. Today, the backlog of unmet maintenance and infrastructure needs -- repairs to crumbling buildings, bridges, roads, swimming pools, and water and electrical systems -- is conservatively estimated at $650 million. Unfortunately, state parks were left out of the federal stimulus equation.

The situation on the operating side is just as dire. Since the spring of 2008, state parks operations have suffered a 20 percent budget cut and a reduction in overall staffing levels of 850. For an agency that was lean to begin with, this has meant fewer programs, less maintenance and reduced hours at 100 parks. Any further cuts will lead to more service and program reductions and, inevitably, the closing of some parks. Because of the expense of bringing a closed park back online, the expectation is that any park that closes will remain closed for three to five years, and maybe permanently.

The annual parks budget is less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the total state budget. Surely, we can do better by our parks.

In these challenging economic times, it seems that maintaining, or even extending, the services provided by our state parks would be a sound investment in our quality of life and the state and local economies. Our state parks should be given the resources needed to provide the level of services New Yorkers need and have come to expect.

So we invite residents of the Capital Region to visit Thacher, Saratoga Spa, Grafton or Moreau Lake State Park this fall. Then use this experience to urge Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature to reinvest in our state parks -- to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunity to experience the beauty and benefits of these crown jewels.

Robin Dropkin is executive director of Parks & Trails New York.

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