Local groups protesting expansion on historic grounds
The Fiver Rivers Environmental Education Center in the Town of New Scotland was founded on the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, but a proposal to better the facilities there would also erase the remaining physical traces of the Corps Camp.
The Town Boards of New Scotland and Bethlehem, along with the New Scotland Historical Association, are formally calling for other plans that would not impact the two remaining structures of CCC Camp S-72.
There used to be a whole complex of buildings over there but most of them have now been removed, said New Scotland Town Historian Bob Parmenter, a member of the New Scotland Historical Association. `There is quite a bit of local history involved with that.`
Using a private grant, the Department of Environmental Conservation is aiming to replace the building used for the Guided School Program with a new, modern structure.
`We anticipate construction will start this spring on the Five Rivers project, and that construction would end this fall,` said Maureen Wren, a DEC spokeswoman.
She added the historical significance of the CCC buildings in being taken into consideration, and a final decision has not yet been reached on how those buildings will play into the final design.
The state Conservation Department (the precursor to the DEC) purchased the roughly 400-acre preserve from struggling farmers in 1933, and for three years CCC workers lived and worked there to prepare the area for game farming. The remaining buildings were once used as a maintenance shop and barracks.
In addition to local governments and groups, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, are in favor of preserving the buildings, said Pam Dorgan, president of the NSHA, who made it clear her organization is not against the expansion.
`We’re very much in favor of a new education center,` she said. `With a slight movement, I don’t see why we can’t have both.`
Bethlehem Supervisor Sam Messina said a copy of the Town Board’s resolution has been forwarded to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, and he similarly expressed his hope a win-win situation can be achieved at Five Rivers.
`They were CCC buildings, and they’re important to members of this community,` he said. `[The expansion] can go forward and not be impacted on history or the presence of these buildings.`
The Guided School Program is run by a volunteer staff of teachers, who provide lessons to about 6,000 kids per year, said Friends of Five Rivers President Richard Bader.
`In the past 20 years, we’ve probably had contact with 200,000 students,` he said.
The program is run by FFR, an independent citizen organization, out of the Goose Lodge, and the program has long since outgrown those facilities, said Bader.
`We think the partnership that we’re working on with DEC to provide a 21st century building for providing lessons to children is an important thing,` he said.
The upgrade would be covered by a $500,000 donation from the Repass family of Massachusetts, directed through FFR. Wendy Repass Suozzo was a longtime educator at Fiver Rivers.
The need to replace the visitor’s center and school program building was broached in a 2007 Office of General Services study that found the Goose Lodge and visitor’s center should be replaced with LEED-certified structures, said Craig Thompson, director of Five Rivers.
`They were not intended for the uses to which we’re putting them right now,` he said. `Basically, they’re just plain old, and energy inefficient, as well.`
He added officials from the DEC and state parks department are studying the CCC structures and will be making a judgment on their historical significance.
The new Guided School building would include many `green` features, including solar panels and a green roof. Recycled materials would be used to the greatest extent possible, and visiting classes could learn about these building techniques through interpretive signage, according to the DEC.“