The temporary median that went up last year on Washington Avenue to direct foot traffic between Schenectady County Community College and the new student housing across the street will soon become permanent.
Replacing the drab concrete and chain-link fence, though, will be a walkway of red brick, wrought iron fencing and decorative landscaping.
“This will be much more attractive,” said Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen. “The brick will match the old Van Curler Hotel and College Suites. We’re going to put some plants on top of the brick. It’s just more attractive, more functional, and it will meet the goal of requiring faculty and students to cross at the crosswalk.”
When developer United Group of Companies of Troy built the four-story, 264-bed student housing complex across from SCCC on Washington Avenue, city officials immediately saw the need for a safe crossing point for students to get to class, so Metroplex paid $10,000 to put up a temporary barrier that included a 6-foot-high, chain-link fence that started at the College Suites entrance and led to the crosswalk at Washington Avenue and State Street. A concrete barrier was also put in place to block off Water Street, which the city wants to eliminate and turn into green space.
The barrier essentially made it extremely difficult for anyone to jaywalk in the busy corridor, and it was in place by the time school started.
Nearly a year later, it will be made permanent. Work will begin in August and wrap up in a few months, said Gillen. On Wednesday night, the Metroplex board passed a resolution to hold a public hearing on the decision to spend up to $175,000 on the project.
Gillen said the median will create a permanent pedestrian traffic link between the college and downtown Schenectady at a time when development of the lower State Street section of downtown is really starting to pick up. Key to this development is growth at SCCC, he added.
“They may be the fastest-growing community college in the state right now,” he said. “The other way is the river. They can’t grow that way. The college has only one way to grow and that’s downtown.”
SCCC is retrofitting a building at 201 State St. to house its workforce development programs. It also has space at Center City in the 400 block of State Street.
The intersection itself has been made much safer, as well. The city lengthened the time for pedestrians to cross and “No right turn” signs have gone up at Washington Avenue and State Street.
“Students are crossing who live at the dorm,” said Gillen. “They’re crossing to use the bus, to walk up to the Center City campus. This is all about tying the college to lower State Street. The college is growing fast. The future of that section of downtown is really tied to the future of the college.”
The median may also get a lot of use, he said, as a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initiative to create tax-free zones for new or out-of-state businesses that locate within a 200,000-square-feet zone of a SUNY campus. He’s already heard from one Tennessee business — Etailogic Inc. — that wants to locate near SCCC under the program, which won’t begin until January.
“There is certainly an opportunity for doing some additional work down there,” said Gillen. “The idea is really to create a campus square down there to really make that area of lower State Street feel like a gateway.”