Union College has a new home for its campus safety team: the former bank building at the corner of Nott Street and Van Vranken Avenue.
The building, which was previously Bank of America and had been vacant since 2013, started housing the private college’s 26-person campus safety staff last month and will be formally dedicated Thursday evening as part of the school Homecoming Weekend.
Now called the Williams Center for Campus Community Safety, the building is equipped with a control room to monitor the campus’ 80 surveillance cameras, conferences rooms for training and to host community partners, an interview room, locker rooms and administrative offices.
“This is the first real campus safety building,” said Chris Hayen, who has served as Union’s director of campus safety for a decade and worked at the school for over 30 years. “We outgrew our resources.”
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Union College Williams Center for Campus Community Safety, located at the corner of Nott St. and Van Vranken Ave. across from Union College campus.
In 2017, Union agreed to purchase the building for $135,000, with the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority pitching in $25,000 to help finalize the deal. Union expected to spend around $1.6 million to buy and renovate the building.
The building, which had been the home of multiple bank branches over the years, was falling into disrepair and becoming a site of graffiti and parking lot troubles, said Ray Gillen, director of Metroplex.
“Empty buildings go down hill fast,” Gillen said. “[Union] stepped up and we couldn’t be more pleased. For $25,000, that was a good investment.”
The project was supported by a gift from 1986 Union graduate and current trustee Kelly Williams and her husband Andrew Forsyth and the building is named for Williams.
Union’s campus safety department employs a 26-person security staff, including 10 campus safety officers trained and empowered to arrest intruders who refuse to comply with requests to leave.
The campus safety department works closely with local law enforcement. When calls based on Union’s campus make their way to county dispatch, the campus security team is quickly notified. In one recent instance, Hayen said, a 911 call was made for someone in distress at the campus ice rink; the call went through the county dispatch, the campus safety team was made aware of it and was able to respond and begin CPR before other emergency personnel arrived.
MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Chris Hayen, Director of the new Union College Williams Center for Campus Community Safety building, located at the corner of Nott St. and Van Vranken Ave. across from Union College campus.
The safety staff maintains a campus presence 24 hours a day, also providing security at the school’s boathouse and the Kelly Adirondack Center in Niskayuna. The safety department oversees vehicle registration, ensures door locks function, provides safety education and awareness programs for students and organizes security for campus events throughout the years.
“Even though you don’t get credits, we are teaching you life awareness skills,” Hayen said of the programs offered to students.
The personnel that monitor security cameras consist of former law enforcement workers and people interested in campus security; the college trains the staff, with some of the security officers going though an extensive public safety training at the Zone 5 Police Academy in Schenectady. Officers with public safety training carry handcuffs and respond to people not authorized to be on campus. (None of the college’s security staff carry firearms.)
Hayen said the department’s chief mission is to ensure students, professors and staff can do the work they come to campus to do: teach, learn and research.
“You should be able to do that while only focusing on those things,” Hayen said.
At the start of each school year, Hayen makes sure to introduce himself to new students and parents. He gives them the safety department’s phone number and tells them if they don’t know whom to call for something, they should call his department.
“If you are in doubt,” he tells the students and parents, “this is the number you call.”