Schenectady County

Graduate college improves building design

In response to stinging criticism from the Schenectady Planning Commission, Union Graduate College o

In response to stinging criticism from the Schenectady Planning Commission, Union Graduate College officials reworked the design of their new building’s facade just in time for Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

The facade is now a grayer color, rather than the bright tan that was shown to the commission. Horizontal decorative lines were also added, but not the elaborate window-dressings that one commission member requested after calling the facade dull and bland.

The building will be along Nott Terrace near the defunct Friendly’s, but it will not face the street. The ornamental entrance will face a parking lot behind the building, to the dismay of Planning Commission members.

But architect James McKinney said that was the most sensible arrangement.

“You can feel it, standing here,” he said, pointing toward the parking lot that overlooks City Hall. “That’s where you want to be looking.”

College Board of Trustees President Tom Hitchcock added that it will be a vast improvement over the current parking lot.

“In place of the barren blacktop we see today, there will stand a handsome campus,” he said.

The three-story, glass entrance will “offer spectacular views of downtown and the greater Mohawk Valley,” he said.

And McKinney promised that the Nott Terrace side of the long building would look prettier in years to come, when the college expands.

There will be a main entrance on Nott Terrace then, which McKinney said would be impressive.

“A lot of glass, a big arch,” he said.

Aesthetics aside, local politicians were enthusiastic as they ceremonially broke ground for the project Friday morning.

“Believe it or not, today the bachelor’s degree doesn’t cut it,” said Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna. “You’ve got to have an advanced degree if you’re going to go on to bigger and better things.”

County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, emphasized environmentally friendly aspects of the building. Several big projects in recent months have included expensive green technology, including the GE Renewable Energies headquarters, the Department of Social Services building and Clinton Square at State and Clinton streets, and Savage said the trend is promising.

“For 100 years, we have been known as the community that lights and hauls the world,” she said. “Now we will be the community that lights and powers the world in a green, renewable way.”

The college offers graduate classes in management, engineering, education and bioethics. Engineers will work in an open-air laboratory on the roof, where solar panels will be installed.

“We hope they will one day be efficient enough to power the building,” said college interim President John Huppertz.

But even without solar energy, the building won’t use much electricity. A geothermal heating and cooling system will reduce energy demand by up to 70 percent, he said. The building will also use renewable, locally manufactured materials that include a high percentage of recycled content.

Green space on the lot will more than double, from 11,000 to 30,000 square feet, and landscapers will fill the space with trees and shrubs, including disease-resistant American elms.

“In building an environmentally sensitive building, the benefits will extend far beyond our students,” Huppertz said.

The building will be 24,000 square feet and cost $9 million, including $2.3 million in state and federal grants.

The expansion, if built, would be the same size. Parking behind the building will provide enough space for all students even after the expansion, officials said, and the building will be mainly used at night. Most classes will be offered from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

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