Schenectady County

Neighborhood in the dark until spring on street lights

How many people does it take to change a light bulb on Sheridan Avenue?
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How many people does it take to change a light bulb on Sheridan Avenue?

Half the lights on the street in Sheridan Village are out, but despite the efforts of residents, the city and National Grid, it seems darkness may reign there until spring. The light bulbs, everyone says, can’t simply be changed.

Residents began their quest to resolve the problem this summer with complaints to the city, where Signal Control Supervisor John Coluccio said he couldn’t replace the burnt-out bulbs. They are National Grid lights, he said, and have to be replaced by the company.

National Grid never came.

Residents began to whisper that their lights couldn’t be replaced. They speculated the lights were so old, the bulbs were obsolete.

That rumor flew through the city in late summer, when residents on the other side of Schenectady held a march in protest of their poorly maintained lights. Most of those bulbs were immediately fixed.

City officials insisted the rumors of obsolete lights were utterly false — any light could be replaced, they said, if residents simply reported the problem accurately. Coluccio complained that some residents gave him an incomplete address, or didn’t report the pole number, leaving workers to wander the streets after dark in search of the broken light so they could put in a repair order.

The senior citizens in Sheridan Village listened. They turned in precise reports about the lights at the intersection of Sheridan and Fulton avenues. Their lights remained dark.

Now, it turns out, they were right after all. Their lights are obsolete. The strip of lights running along Sheridan Avenue, Fulton Avenue, Dorwaldt Boulevard, Mills Ten Eyck Parkway and Van Rensselaer Drive cannot be maintained any longer, according to a letter National Grid recently sent the city.

“Those are lights we don’t use anymore,” said National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella.

He said the company would have to put in new poles, wires and bulbs to bring light back to those streets.

He couldn’t explain why the company had continued to accept a yearly payment of $7,200 from the city for maintenance of the 11 lights that the company knew it could not maintain. But he argued that as long as the lights still worked, the company could accept the payment in good conscience.

“As long as they aren’t having a problem with the lights,” he said.

Now that the company knows there is a problem, it has proposed a new lighting system, with a slightly cheaper annual maintenance plan for the city. It would cost $5,500, a savings of $1,700, Coluccio said.

The new lights would also be more than 30 percent brighter and use less energy. The maintenance agreement would be cheaper because National Grid would install fiberglass poles, which are cheaper to repair than the current steel poles, Coluccio said.

There is no plan to refund the city for any portion of the maintenance fee paid while the lights weren’t working. And the city is still paying for other obsolete lights — Coluccio is trying to determine where all of them are, but so far he’s only sure of one other section of lights, on California Avenue between Michigan Avenue and Altamont Avenue.

Stella said National Grid would be willing to replace all the obsolete lights if the city can figure out which bulbs are obsolete.

“We’d need a list from the city,” he said.

Coluccio hasn’t asked National Grid to replace the California Avenue lights yet. He’s writing a letter to the residents, as well as the company, to start the process.

He believes new lights for that area, based on National Grid’s current prices, would cost about $500 more than the city is currently paying for the obsolete lights.

He’s hoping to get them replaced quickly, but Stella said residents may have to wait until spring.

“We have to do a design, and it’s getting close to winter — for those lights [on Sheridan] there’s wires in the ground, so we’d have to do digging,” he said, adding that if the city prefers, it could do the work itself.

Coluccio said the city plans to have National Grid do the work. But he acknowledged that residents don’t want to go through the dark winter without streetlights.

“We’re looking to do it sooner rather than later,” Coluccio said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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