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SARATOGA SPRINGS – A group of local students recently took a break from esoteric calculus and SAT prep to learn some more practical real world skills.

The Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar program decided to do something a little different for its yearly feedback session, during which they find out what their senior students like and dislike about the program for the sake of future improvements.  Responding to a complaint that has been common from students over the years that they did not learn enough about handling certain social situations, Mary Gavin and Kristie Roohan organized an “etiquette dinner” that would help their students learn to be more comfortable in such situations, in addition to giving them an opportunity to give their feedback on the program. 

Held at Sperry’s Restaurant in downtown Saratoga Springs, part of the goal of the dinner was to teach the students about restaurant etiquette, including using menus, how to order, which utensils to use, among a variety of other things.  Beyond all of that, the broader goal of the night was help the students learn to feel comfortable in social situations that might take place in environments similar to Sperry’s, whether they be meetings, interviews, parties, or any other similar sort of occasion. 

“It was so much better than we could’ve expected,” Mary Gavin said of the dinner.  “They loved it.” 

Students were encouraged to ask any questions they had about anything during the night, and they asked plenty, as many of them had never had experience with restaurants like Sperry’s before.  According to Gavin, questions ranged from wanting to know about certain menu items that they had never heard of, to asking if it was okay to ask to take their leftovers home.  To their credit, Gavin said that the wait staff at Sperry’s were courteous and grateful throughout the night, helping students with anything and everything they needed or wanted to know about.

The dinner also gave the program organizers their annual opportunity to solicit feedback about the program from the outgoing senior students.  According to Gavin, students expressed their satisfaction with the program as a whole, in particular with the mentors that they have been working with, while also expressing dissatisfaction with their mentors’ tendency to be gone certain days on official business, leaving them without guidance.  Gavin said that they will be taking that latter criticism into account moving forward.

Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar is a ten-year-old not-for-profit program that works with “financially-disadvantaged” students in the Saratoga Springs school system by assigning them mentors who help them to finish high school and prepare for college.  Many of the students in the program end up being the first in their families to enter college, according to Gavin.

Ultimately, Gavin said that one thing stood out to her the most as a sign that the night had been a success.

“I think the highlight was we didn’t see a single cell phone the entire night,” Gavin said.

What do you think of SSAS's etiquette dinner idea?  Should more school program's teach practical social skills?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

All photos in this story are by PhotoAndGraphic.com.

Published in Education
Friday, 09 December 2016 09:47

Tear Down: Historic Building Couldn’t be Saved

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The demolition team arrived from Schenectady alongside the Thursday morning sun and began the delicate disassembly of a fragile 19th century building on Caroline Street ravaged by fire on Thanksgiving Day.

Efforts to salvage the structure, which included securing a third engineering opinion late Tuesday, proved unsuccessful.

“The result is not what we hoped,” said Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation Executive Director Samantha Bosshart, in a statement issued Thursday morning.

The fire displaced residents of five apartments and forced the closure of four businesses on Putnam and Caroline streets. A faulty electrical extension cord located in a small storage area in the rear of the Mio Posto restaurant was targeted as the cause of the blaze. The structure deemed most seriously affected was a vacant brick building at 26 Caroline St. that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and which had most recently housed the Living Room.

Two initial engineering reports deemed the building unsafe and recommended total demolition. On Monday, Bosshart approached the City Council on behalf of the Preservation Foundation and offered $2,000 to secure a third structural opinion and questioning whether any part of the building could be salvaged. The City Council, by a 4-0 vote, approved an emergency declaration seeking that third study, which was conducted Tuesday by Mike Miller of Ryan Biggs Associates.

“We walked through the building and it’s a devastating site, destroyed,” reported city attorney Vincent DeLeonardis afterwards, adding that preliminary findings of the third study were consistent with previous reports. No formal report had yet been presented, but DeLeonardis recited an email received from Miller, which read in part: “The extent of damage has compromised the structural integrity of the building at 26 Caroline Street and forms an unsafe condition. This forms a risk to the public in front of the building as well as to the adjacent properties. Further collapse of the building could occur at any time.”

In response, the Preservation Foundation reported that it did not know why steps couldn’t be taken to preserve the façade, particularly since they had yet to receive a copy of the owner’s structural report dated Nov. 30 that specifically addresses that topic, or a copy of the Ryan Biggs preliminary report. “The Foundation looks to the future of this site and working with the property owner and the Design Review Commission to ensure that replacement infill is appropriate in scale and design,” added the organization.

“I have a lot of options and will have to go through them one by one,” said the building’s owner by Louis Lazzinnaro. Prior to the fire, Lazzinnaro said he was hoping to refurbish the existing building, “but unfortunately that’s not going to happen now, so we’ll see what makes sense.”

Lazzinnaro said he purchased the building two or three years ago, and was still waiting for definitive answers regarding damage coverage from his insurance company. He’s currently working with an architect to create conceptual drawings of what might replace the building and while it’s too soon to tell what may be developed in the space, he said he assumes it will be a mixed-use development. “I had an independent engineer to see if the façade could be saved, but because of the way the building is - there’s no open space in the back - everything has to be done from the front,” Lazzinnaro said. “Most importantly, no one was hurt during the fire and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt during the demolition.”

The demolition will be done slowly and cautiously given the current state of the building’s integrity and is expected to take 1-1/2 to 2 weeks, according to early accounts. The stretch of Caroline Street where the buildings were damaged by fire will remain closed during the demolition. DeLeonardis said the Ice House was “not terribly affected” by the fire whereas Mio Posto is “in very rough shape, but is not as structurally precarious as 26 Caroline.” The structural status of Mio Posto restaurant on Putnam Street is not currently known.

The four businesses affected by the fire - Sperry’s restaurant, the Ice House, Mio Posto restaurant, and Hamlet & Ghost – remain closed. Brendan Dillon, co-owner of Hamlet & Ghost said he is hopeful the craft cocktail bar may re-open by New Year’s Eve.

Published in News