Building a 3rd Middle School in Westland Hills Park
Does Albany need a third middle school?
School District justification for a third middle school is 1)relief of
overcrowding at the existing middle schools, Hackett and Livingston, 2)
attracting middle class families to Albany, and 3)small schools are better.
#1 A third middle school is needed to relieve overcrowding at Hackett and
FACT: Projected enrollment for middle school students is flat for the
next 7 years. The trend is decreasing enrollment in Albany due to 1) the
2 charter schools, 2) a recently created K-8 school, and 3) a decline in
FACT: Overcrowding was defined by the School District in the draft
environmental impact statement issued late last summer as number
of students exceeding an unexplained cap of 600. That number has
since been revised upward to 650. Current enrollment at Hackett and
Livingston exceeds the revised cap by 78 and 141 students
respectively. Three middle schools of 650 students each would
accommodate 1950 students, 431 more than currently enrolled or
FACT: What the School District proposes is a reconfiguration of
middle schools from 7-8th grades to 6-8th grades.
FACT: The School District assumed increased enrollment despite the
impact of the charter schools, the K-8 school, and a decline in city
population. This assumption was based on a "possible
enrollment" of all 4th through 6th grade
students remaining in city schools.
#2. Middle schools of 600-650 students will attract middle class families
FACT: Academic performance attracts families with school-age children
to a community, not buildings. Guilderland and Bethlehem
middle schools have enrollments far above 650 students yet people
continue to leave Albany for those school districts. Guilderlandís
middle school has about 1400 students while Bethlehemís has about
1200. These schools create a small school learning atmosphere while
achieving economies of scale and holding down operating costs by
assigning students to houses within the school building.
#3 Smaller schools will result in improved academic performance.
FACT: Building smaller schools does not guarantee improved academic
performance. A school district in North Carolina embarked on a
construction approach to academic performance only to find that
test scores not only did not improve, they got worse. Recent studies
in New York City also found that reduced class size did not
translate into improved academic performance.
FACT: Middle school enrollment at the proposed 3rd middle
been creeping up from 600 to 650 and 675 has been mentioned. The
building, at 148,000 square feet, is 6,000 square feet larger than the
Times-Union building. A 155,000 square foot building was proposed
to accommodate 900 students at the Kelton Court site and a 142,000
square foot building was proposed for 800 students. In August, the
School District announced plans to use a wing of Livingston for
office space. It is reasonable to infer, therefore, that the School
District plans for far more than 650 students in Westland Hills, perhaps
as many as 800 students.
A. No, there is no need for a third middle school. The School Districtís
assertion that the numbers support building is contradicted by the facts.
There is a basis for questioning whether the third middle school will be a
"smaller school" but even if it were, that is no guarantee of
improved academic performance, the main reason parents choose a school
WESTLAND HILLS SITE
Is Westland Hills the only site suitable for a third middle school?
FACT: Reasonable alternatives exist and even more sites could be
considered if the School District requested a waiver of the 16-acre
middle school sites from the New York State Education Department.
This option is available but was never pursued.
What has changed between the time Westland Hills was rejected as site and
FACT: The School District initially decided that Westland Hills was
unsuitable as a site for a third middle school based on community
reaction, property non-availability, and required traffic
reconfiguration. The community is still opposed, the park remains
a public trust that will have to be alienated by the New York State
Legislature in order to be used as a school site, and traffic will have
to be significantly reconfigured.
How does Westland Hills compare to other sites considered and rejected?
FACT: These sites were considered and rejected because they
lacked community support:
Kelton Court (site #29)
Livingston (site #6)
were used as parks:
Exchange Street Pocket Park (site #5)
Normanskill Horse Farm
presented traffic and environmental concerns:
Whitehall Rd./N.Scotland (site #9)
Hoffman Park (site #22)
Rt. 85 (site #28)
Westland Hills is 1) used as a park, is the only park between Washington
Park and Colonie, 2) presents significant traffic and environmental
concerns, and 3) for those reasons, there is deep
opposition to its use as a school site by the surrounding community.
Are parks and schools complementary uses?
No, New York State law holds that a school does not belong in a park.
What impact will the school have on Westland Hills Park?
Thirteen of the 26 acres in the park are already restricted for Little
League use. The proposed plan leaves the Little League fields undisturbed.
The building takes 4 acres. The parking lot for 75 cars, bus turnaround,
storage building, athletic fields, emergency access road, and cross-country
track will be built on what remains, approximately 9 acres. The wooded lot
of mature trees at the east end of the park will be destroyed, as will the
community gardens. The sledding hill at the west end of the park will be
"reshaped" for spectator viewing. The community gardens will be
on a hill adjacent to the bus turnaround in the area where contaminated soil
was found. The park will be used by as many as 800 students on a daily
basis for physical education classes and after school and on weekends for
How is the determination made that conversion of park land will occur as
the result of nonpark use?
All current passive and active recreational uses must first be
identified. Then, the impact of nonpark use on all activities is
Were all park purposes and uses identified?
No. The School District did not consider adult active or passive
activities currently enjoyed in Westland Hills Park. Its conclusion that
would be no curtailment of park use was based on an assertion that park
"features" such as the Little League fields, toddler wading
pool, and playground apparatus will remain.
Will school use curtail park use?
Yes. People who come to the park to walk or sit under the shade of the
trees at the east end will no longer be able to do so. Open space currently
for quiet walks or bird watching or frisbee throwing will be paved or in
use for physical education classes. The sledding hill will become a spectator
viewing area. The gardens in their relocated site will present severe water
runoff , soil contamination, and access problems. In addition, the fence
surrounding the gardens, now in a mid-park location, will have a negative
visual impact. In addition, the number of students using the park on a daily
basis as well as for athletic events means that the park will be used for
school activities before school, during school, after school, and on
What is the effect of restricting public use of Westland Hills Park?
Restricting public use of park land for any period of time converts a
from public open space to, in this case, a schoolyard. The unnecessary loss
of Westland Hills, a park essential to the survival and continued vitality of
the surrounding neighborhoods, can only have negative economic and
quality of life consequences for the residents living in the area and for
Albany as well.
How much would a third middle school cost?
As part of the overall Facilities Plan, which will require a $174.6
million bond issue and cost over $357 million after interest for 20 years is
calculated, the third middle school is likely to cost significantly more
than the $30 million projected for its construction because of contamination
problems as the site. Soil contamination removal could cost as much as
$70 million. Because the School District canít spend more money than the
voters approve for each phase, increased costs for soil contamination
removal and containment will come at the expense of other school projects
in the Facilities Plan.
Has the site been approved?
Despite the School District Superintendentís assertions to the
contrary, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has not approved
the Westland Hills site. According to the Coordinator of NYSEDís Office of
Facilities, "[t]he site will only be approved for construction in the
future if the agencies with the expertise regarding the contamination
recommend that the site can be properly cleared and mitigated for the safety
of students, staff
and the public."
How much additional traffic can be expected?
According to the School District, 800 vehicles currently use Colvin
Avenue during the morning school opening period and 1200 vehicles use it
during the afternoon school closing period. Based on enrollment of 600
students (not the current 650 or more), the School District estimates that
an additional 225 vehicles during each of the two periods will create a
20-25% increase in traffic. Resulting congestion on Colvin will further
delay traffic at the Washington Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, and especially
Central Avenue intersections.
Where would the most serious traffic problems occur?
On Colvin Avenue but they would ripple through the area as people try to
avoid congestion. Colvin Avenue is the only street in the upper Washington
Avenue area of Albany connecting two main thoroughfares, Washington and
Central Avenues. As the only way into the proposed school, Colvin Avenue would
carry all school bound traffic.