The swinging sex parties on Union Street are being replaced by sedate counseling sessions, and the neighbors couldn’t be happier.
At Wednesday’s city Planning Commission meeting, several neighbors of the former Union Street B&B expressed grave doubts at first about its new proposed use as a mental health office. One said they were envisioning patients in straitjackets, foaming at the mouth as they were dragged into the building.
Once they learned that psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers would be meeting one-on-one with outpatients struggling from disorders as common as depression and attention deficit disorder, they gave the plan their approval. The commission granted permission as well.
“I think they got it right,” said Dr. Anthony DePalma, a dentist who works across the street from the 1362 Union St. building. “This building has been notorious to say the least. This will turn it around.”
Neighbors Terry and Linda McClain agreed.
“It will be nice for him to get rid of the stigma. It was very embarrassing,” said Linda McClain. The couple lives behind the building and endured years of swinger parties in which participants would sneak out the back, climb over a ledge onto their property, and walk down their driveway to avoid being seen.
Dr. Thomas Qualtere, who will run the mental health office, reassured the neighbors that he wouldn’t allow any such sex parties. He joked that he had to burn one mattress left behind and send the ashes to the Centers for Disease Control. He also replaced all the carpets — “They were disgusting, as you would imagine,” — and filled a dumpster with used sex supplies.
“Things were being thrown in there that you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “If I were a sex therapist, I’d be wealthy.”
Now the party-hopping hallways have become boring, well-lighted walkways, he said. The bedrooms have been converted into offices.
There will be five mental health professionals working at the building, but no more than three at a time. All five have offices in Albany and would come to Schenectady only to treat patients who live here.
Two of the doctors specialize in child and adolescent therapy, which Qualtere said is desperately needed in the city.
“The services just aren’t available in Schenectady,” he said. “There’s a month to two-month waiting list. That’s why we’re coming here.”
He added that his practice in Schenectady, which is 19 years old, has never drawn a single complaint from the neighbors.
“I hope that alleviates your concern,” he told the residents.
He was polite even when a resident asked if his patients would “foam at the mouth.” Qualtere said afterward that such comments merely reinforce a prejudice that mental illness is somehow more shameful than physical sickness.
“It’s unfortunately the negative stigma that mental health has,” he said. “They’re just like any of us who may be having some difficult times.”
Resident Dana Swalla, who led a two-year battle against the B&B, was also present at Wednesday’s meeting. She supported the proposal.