CRFS adds investors with push to grow in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 April 2015
ALBION – CRFS isn’t laying off employees and its principal owner, Jodi Gaines, isn’t selling out her control of the business.

Gaines said the company is looking to grow and diversify in Albion, and she has welcomed new investors so the company is in a better position to expand.


“We’re here and we’re committed to Albion and the Orleans County community,” she said. “We have a long-term lease and we’re excited about our future.”

She made the comments today amidst concern and rumors in the community that the company was leaving the area and that she had relinquished some of her ownership stake.

Gaines said neither is true. She hasn’t sold any of her stake in the company.

“We’ve brought in additional investors to help us because there are a lot of tremendous opportunities for CRFS,” she said. “We’re looking to make additional investments in our technology and we are planning to expand service offerings.”

She also said the company will remain committed to several local causes, including the United Way and other charitable efforts.


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Albion again named top music school district in US

Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 21 April 2015
ALBION – Michael Thaine, Albion’s high school band director, leads the band during a concert on March 4 in the high school gymnasium. About 400 students participate in the elementary, middle and high school band programs.


The Albion music program has again made a national list of schools with music programs cited for excellence by the North American Music Merchants. NAMM has named Albion and 387 other school districts in 46 states a “Best Communities for Music Education.”

The NAMM organization gives out the award to recognize districts that make music a priority, especially in an era of tight school budgets and packed student schedules.
Albion has made the list the past eight years.

Arella Ives stars in the role of Shere Khan, a Bengal tiger that tries to hunt down Mowgli, in the middle school production of "The Jungle Book" last month.

Albion runs an active music program in the elementary, middle and high schools. The high school puts on a full-scale musical and students also perform in several different instrumental and choral groups. In all, high school musicians perform numerous times during the school year.

The middle school puts on a full-scale musical, and its students perform with the marching and jazz bands. Elementary music teachers lead students in performances throughout the year.

The NAMM Foundation wants to single out districts for outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the core curriculum.

“Ensuring that every child has access to music in schools requires commitment by students, teachers, and those who determine school budgets,” said Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the NAMM Foundation. “We commend the districts and schools that have earned the Best Community designation this year. They join with so many that believe as we do that there is a vital link between do-rei-me and the ABCs.”

For more on the NAMM Foundation, click here.

The drum line in the Albion Marching Band performs last June during the parade at the Albion Strawberry Festival. The band had a memorable season, winning first place in every competition it entered – in Nunda, Holley and Seneca Falls. The band also played in the Rochester Lilac Festival and traveled to Philadelphia.


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Red-nosed elk and other photos from the Santa conference in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 April 2015
ALBION – When a group of Santas has an exhibition at the Elk's Club, the Santas are going to try to make the space their own, even if that means putting a red nose on one of the elks mounted on the wall.


Santas used the Elk's Club on West State Street as a meeting place and also a spot for selling Santa suits, boots, belts and other merchandise. Albion hosted the Charles W. Howard Legendary Santa Claus Conference from Thursday through Saturday.

This Santa wore a red hat with a "Believe"  pin on the back. He was at Fair Haven Treasures on Friday afternoon for the dedication of an International Peace Garden.

A member of Santa's Drill Team stands in an honor guard on the front porch of Fair Haven Treasures as part of the garden dedication.

Santa's Drill Team includes Santas from around Tampa, Florida. They often recite American history and shared about the War of 1812 during the Peace Garden dedication.

Members of the Claus Clan, a group of Santas that celebrate their Scottish ancestry, stand at attention at the Peace Garden dedication while listening to Gaines Town Justice Bruce Schmidt, who was master of ceremonies for the event.

Vern Crawford, a Santa from Center Point, Texas, snaps a photo during the Peace Garden dedication.

While their reindeer rested at home, Santas made their way to Albion with vehicles decorated for the Christmas season.

This license plate was on a vehicle at the Elk's Club parking lot.

Tom Myers, a Santa from Washington. D.C., sits on one of the portable chairs he was selling at the Elk's. Myers said the chairs could easily be folded up and transported.

Tim Harrison of Hopewell Junction in New York gets fitted in a Santa suit by Gwen Kirkendall of Santa and Co. LLC. The business sells Santa suits in a similar design as those sold by Charles W. Howard when he operated his Santa School in Albion from 1937 until 1966.

These Santas walk past the Orleans County Jail on their way to courthouse steps for a bigger group picture on Saturday.


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Santa’s many faces on display in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 18 April 2015

ALBION – You can't have a Santa Claus conference and not have a group photo. About 200 Santas and some Mrs. Clauses gathered on the steps in front of the Orleans County Courthouse at noon today.


The group is in town for the Charles W. Howard Legendary Santa Claus Conference. Howard started the first Santa Claus School, which he ran in Albion from 1937 until his death in 1966.


The conference continues today at the Albion Middle School Auditorium with sessions about business plans, improvisational acting and historic Charles Howard footage, including the 1959 Macy's Parade. That parade footage will be shown in its entirety, about an hour long, beginning at about 5 p.m.

This photo includes Charles Howard's granddaughter, Susan Howard-Brown (in black sweater), and some of the members of Santa's Drill Team from Florida.


The following show some of the Santas and other attendees at the conference. They sang some Christmas carols from the Courthouse steps.



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Albion’s LDC acquires 2 houses, 1 to rehab and 1 to demolish

Photo by Tom Rivers
This house at 544 East State Street, pictured in January, will be transferred from Wells Fargo to a village-owned LDC which will seek proposals from developers to buy and renovate the house.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 April 2015
ALBION – The reactivated Albion Housing and Economic Development Corporation will soon have two houses in its control, with one to be rehabbed and the other to be demolished to open up 4.4 acres for development for possible patio homes on Caroline Street.

Albion Housing and Economic Development Corporation is a local development corporation with members appointed by the Village Board. Albion Mayor Dean London and Village Trustee Gary Katsanis serve on the LDC with real estate broker Jim Theodorakos, former mayor Ed Salvatore and former Gaines Town Supervisor Richard DeCarlo Sr.

The LDC last week voted to accept a house at 231 Caroline St. from Wells Fargo. The house is missing some windows, but it’s a solid structure that can be rehabilitated, Code Enforcement Officer Ron Vendetti said.

He didn’t want to see a house that could be salvaged taken down, depriving the village of more tax base and revenue.

The LDC will put out a request for proposals (RFP) from developers to acquire and renovate the site.

The LDC also voted to accept a house that is part of a 4.4-acre property at 231 Caroline St. Hugh McCarthy is relinquishing the property to the village, Vendetti said.


The site has a big chunk of undeveloped land behind it, stretching back 858 feet from the road. Vendetti said the house should be demolished and an access road put in to make the land open for smaller patio homes.

There aren’t many spots left in the village for such a housing development, he said. The project could help the village attract more residents and tax base, Vendetti said.

He estimated it would cost about $20,000 to take down the house. The LDC and village should reach out to developers about the potential housing project, with developers putting in the access road.

Trustee Katsanis cast the lone vote on accepting the house from McCarthy. Katsanis said the village doesn’t have the funds in its budget for the house removal.

“The Village Board is scraping the bottom of the barrel here,” Katsanis said.

London said the village can pursue grants, donations and perhaps other funding to advance the project.

Vendetti said the project has potential to be a big boost for the village and residents looking for smaller houses.

“We could serve a need and develop new tax base for the community,” he said.


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Santas make way to Albion for their convention

Elk's Club transformed into Santa exhibition hall

Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 16 April 2015
ALBION – Tom Cortemeglia and his wife Janiece are pictured inside the Albion Elk's Club on West State Street today.


They are owners of Santas Claus’et, and they sell lots of T-shirts with Santa themes and other merchandise.


Today is the start of the Charles W. Howard Legendary Santa Claus Conference, which runs until Sunday. About 250 Santas will be in town for the event.


Cortemeglia made the trip from Nashville, Tenn. He has attended the Charles W. Howard Santa School four times. It is now in Michigan. Howard, an Albion native, ran the school locally from 1937 until his death in 1966.

Some of the Santas are wearing patches that show Charlie Howard in one of his classic Santa poses.


"The Charles Howard School is the best," Cortemeglia said. "You develop a camraderie with people."


Howard developed standards for Santa's dress and how he should interract with children. Those principles continue to be taught today.


"If it hadn't been for Charlie Howard, a lot of us wouldn't be doing a good job as Santa," Cortemeglia said.

The Elk's Club on West State Street has been turned into an exhibition hall for Santa Claus merchandise and Santa clothing, including hats, boots, bells and other useful items for the Jolly Ole’ Elf.

About 250 Santas will be in town the next few days. Many of them will be at a meet and greet 7 p.m. today at Fair Haven Treasures, 14386 Ridge Rd. The public is welcome to come and meet the Santas this evening and also meet many of the Santas at the exhibition hall at the Elk's.

They will be at the Elk's Club on Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

They will have their ceremonies and program on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Albion Middle School Auditorium.

Dale Nowak prepares a display of clothing inside the Elk's Club. Nowak and his wife, Sherri Heath, sell custom designed clothes for Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves. The couple is from Mountrose, Mich.

There are many Christmas-themed patches and other merchandise for sale.

Santa can stock up on new boots and belts from this vendor.

This vendor is selling new bells and other Santa merchandise.


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Albion sees enrollment drop by nearly 1,000 students in 15 years

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 April 2015
ALBION – The school district continues to shrink in students and next year will likely be more of the same.

This year’s kindergarten class has 141 students. So far, 111 are signed up for kindergarten next year. District officials said they know of about 10 other kids that will likely be part of the kindergarten class. Perhaps more kindergarteners will move into the district before school starts, school officials said.

The district the past 15 years has typically graduated senior classes that are bigger than incoming kindergarten classes. Some students have also moved away.

The impact since 2000 is a drop in enrollment from 2,750 students then to 1,895 this school year. The district’s enrollment projections forecast the enrollment to fall to 1,767 in 2020, nearly 1,000 fewer students than in 2000.

Albion isn’t alone. All Orleans County school districts lost at least 20 percent of their enrollments from 1994-95 to 2012-13. Click here to see “School enrollment has plummeted,” published by the Orleans Hub on March 10, 2014.

Kendall showed the steepest decline, dropping 36.7 percent from 1,176 in 1994-95 to 744 in 2012-13. The district announced Wednesday it would welcome students from the City of Rochester to Kendall as part of the Urban-Suburban program. Kendall school leaders said the program would attract students and tuition revenue for Kendall.

Albion school leaders said the enrollment decline hasn't been as steep more recently, with enrollment falling 30 to 50 students a year more recently and with the projections through 2020. That compares to some years where the district saw enrollment fall more than 100 students.

“The rate is slowing,” said Shawn Liddle, the district’s assistant superintendent of business.


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Albion will seek voter approval on budget, school project on May 19

File photo by Tom Rivers
The Albion Middle School is pictured during a snowstorm on March 29, 2014. The Middle School would have windows from the 1930s and 1950s replaced, as well as other upgrades, in a proposed capital project.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 April 2015
ALBION – The Albion Board of Education on Monday approved a $33.2 million budget that reduces taxes and also a $14.3 million capital project. Both will be presented to the public on May 19 during a vote from noon to 8 p.m. at the elementary school conference room.

The district’s proposed $33,240,940 budget reduces spending by $310,111 or 0.92 percent. The tax levy would drop by 1 percent to $8,355,939.

“It’s certainly a budget that should make everyone’s day on this board,” said Margy Brown, Board of Education president.

The district will see payments to the retirement system drop by $398,000 in 2015-16. The district also expects to save about $145,000 with staff retirements. The district will maintain staffing and all of its programs in the new budget, but retirees will be replaced by less experienced staff with smaller paychecks.

The district also budgeted a $133,000 decrease in tuition through the Orleans-Niagara BOCES and $72,000 less in debt service payments.

Rising salaries for district staff is the biggest increase in the budget at an additional $478,000.

Albion is projecting a state aid increase of $123,889. The numbers put out by the state show a $783,466 increase, but Shawn Liddle, the district’s assistant superintendent of business, said those numbers routinely overstate Albion’s aid by about $400,000. Plus, grant monies for Albion should be subtracted.

The state aid increase, combined with many of the reductions in the budget, is resulting in the tax decrease, district leaders said.

Albion has been holding taxes steady or dropping them for much of the past decade. In 2008-09, the tax levy was $8,727,589. Next budget it will be $8,355,939.

The budget vote on May 19 also includes a proposition for a $14,370,548 project for building reconstruction, energy and safety improvements. State funds will cover 91 percent of the project.

The district has its 9 percent share, $1,286,000, already in a local reserve fund.

The project will address many maintenance issues throughout the district campus.
The project would replace half of the roofs, upgrade parking lots, improve drainage on athletic fields, resurface the track, and add some exterior lighting and utilize more LED lights.

The District Office, currently housed in what was intended to be a temporary metal building in the 1964, would be demolished and those offices would shift to existing space at the middle school.

The capital project would also include stronger doors at school entrances and card access controls.

The fire alarm would be replaced with a new system at the elementary school, which would also see a relocated flag pole to the front of the building, HVAC upgrades, additional exterior lighting, and a new playground on west side.

The elementary school would also receive a shading system on the south side to reduce solar heat gain in the warmer months.

The capital project also will replace some single-pane windows in the middle school with more energy-efficient windows, upgrade the sound booth, improve the boiler and heating system, add exterior lights to northeast side of the school, widen the sidewalk by bus loading zone and replace decaying steel hand railing with aluminum ones.

At the high school, the 1,200 high school lockers that are less than 9 inches wide would be replaced with 800 lockers that are a foot wide. The bigger lockers would allow students to better store their thick backpacks and winter coats.

The high school library would also be repurposed with new technology to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

The capital would also include work on the bus garage, adding an emergency generator, and new doors and lighting.


The budget vote on May 19 also includes propositions to spend $460,000 for buses and $680,411 to be collected for Hoag Library.

There will be a hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. on May 12 in the High School LGI.


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Albion looks for ways to make community more pedestrian-friendly

Photos by Thom Jennings

Local residents and officials are pictured at the intersection on Main and State streets on Monday, during a walkability audit in the village.

By Thom Jennings, Orleans Hub correspondent Posted 15 April 2015
ALBION – A group of Albion government and community leaders put their best foot forward on Monday as they took part in a walkability audit funded by the Genesee Transportation Council.

The group of about 20 people included elected representatives from Orleans County Legislature, the town and village of Albion and the town of Gaines, as well as village employees and representatives from the Albion Merchants Association, Albion Central School, RTS Orleans, Orleans County Health Department and The Albion Running Club.


“This community has a tremendous amount of natural assets,” noted Justin Booth during a presentation to the group. Booth led the audit and has conducted similar ones throughout the region, and was visiting Albion for the first time.


“It is amazing how intact your historic district is, that is something you should be proud of,” Booth said. “Many communities have wedged in fast food places in between buildings.”


The purpose of the audit was to begin the process of finding ways to make the target communities not just walker friendly, but to examine accessibility for bicyclists as well. Booth noted that an increasing segment of the population is becoming health conscious, and thus they are looking for communities that are easy to travel around in using non-motorized forms of transportation.

The crosswalk on Route 31 by King Street could use signage.


During his presentation to the group, Booth spoke about the economic benefits to a community that is safe and accessible for walkers and bicyclists, and showed some strategies that other communities have used to slow down traffic and create safe passage for pedestrians.


The session was not confined to the Village Hall as the entire group visited various locations in Albion, the first was near the intersection of King Street and West Avenue.


While the group convened at the intersection, Booth noted that there were good sidewalks along that stretch of West Ave and a good-sized shoulder for bicyclists. The one area of concern was the lack of signage alerting motorists that there is a crosswalk.


The second area audited was the intersection of Main and Park streets. Booth noted that the intersection is the gateway to the historic district and would be a prime spot for a small island in the center. The island would force motorists to slow down and create a safer environment for walkers and bicyclists.


The group then walked down Main Street, spending a short time at the corner of Main and State, before they moved to their final location, the corner of Linwood and Main Street.

The group on the walkability audit is pictured at the corner of Main and West Park streets. A consultant suggested a small island at the interesection to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety.


It was at the corner of Linwood and Main where the discussion turned to a lack of sidewalks on many of the side streets in the village, including Linwood Avenue.


Village Trustee Stanley Farone noted that the village is in the midst of a tough budget process and has limited resources, but urged citizens to attend meetings and voice their concerns.

“Our meetings are open to the public,” Farone said. “We welcome input from the citizens.”


Booth remarked that some communities have created specially designated sidewalk districts or even shared installation costs with homeowners. This can only be achieved with the full support of the homeowners impacted.


In the meantime, it is important to engage the community in a dialogue about creating a community that is pedestrian and bicycle friendly.


The audit concluded with an exercise where small groups were tasked with creating a walkable community. They approached the task without considering the costs.

The groups targeted areas that were in need of sidewalks and bike paths, and when they were done some people noted that these were things that have been discussed for the last 10 years, but the resources are simply not available.


“Many communities face the same challenges that you are,” noted Booth, “but the fact that so many of you came out for this audit says something positive about your community.”

Village Trustee Stan Farone looks over a map of village streets with village residents, including Lisa Stratton (left) and Debbie Grimm.


The next steps include creating a community vision, and creating long-term and short-term goals.


Albion was one of 10 communities selected by the Genesee Transportation Council for walkability audits. Medina also was picked for the audit, which is scheduled for later this month.


Wendel Engineers will compile a final report with a list of recommendations and possible strategies to all of the communities later this year.


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Ron Sodoma, influential Albion school superintendent, dies

District named elementary school in honor of school leader

Ron Sodoma is pictured last May when he attended the Albion Honors Convocation Dinner.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 April 2015
ALBION – Ron Sodoma, a retired Albion Central School superintendent who fostered character education and service learning programs, while pushing for campus upgrades and solid financial footing for the district, has died.

Mr. Sodoma was fighting cancer and was in hospice care. He was living in Green Castle, Pa., with his wife Karen, a retired Albion teacher. They raised their daughters, Amanda and Becky, in Albion.

Sodoma had a 35-year career at Albion. He started as an elementary school teacher, became principal of the Waterport school, then assistant superintendent and the last 18 ½ years as superintendent.

He retired in December 2002. About two years later there was a ceremony, naming the elementary school in his honor. He said then the district’s success and its commitment to every child is a team effort.

“His heart was here,” said Michael Bonafede, the former Board of Education president who served closely with Sodoma and his successor, Dr. Ada Grabowski. “He believed in the community, the children and a well-rounded education.”

Sodoma may have moved away, but he contributed to community causes, including the capital campaigns for the new Hoag Library and Hospice residence in Albion.

He and his wife were back last May to attend the Honors Convocation for graduating Albion seniors.

While Sodoma was superintendent, the district implemented a character education program, service learning initiatives and also an alternative high school program at the Orleans County Nursing Home – efforts that won the district national awards and remain a part of the school today.

“He was instrumental in developing the culture at the district,” Bonafede said. “He had a pure heart, with good intentions and children were first.”

Sodoma was skilled with planning and the district’s financials. For many years Albion had one of the lowest per pupil costs in the state. The district maintained that low rate while preserving reserve funds and tackling needed campus renovations and improvements.

The district’s sound fiscal shape, the care of its campus and its committed staff attracted Michael Bonnewell to the job about five years ago when Grabowksi retired, following Sodoma.

“From my point of view when I was applying this was an attractive place to be,” Bonnewell said. “The finances were incredibly well managed and that goes back a long ways.”

Sodoma’s legacy lives on at the school with the many teachers, administrators and staff he hired that continue to serve the district, Bonnewell said.

Richard Pucher also served as a local superintendent for 18 ½ years. He led the Lyndonville district and retired just before Sodoma. The two were often on the phone each week.

“He was willing to help his fellow superintendents,” Pucher said.

Sodoma could have gone to bigger districts and more lucrative salaries, but he was committed to Albion for the long haul, Pucher said.

“He was always interested in impacting his district, helping educators and bettering young people,” Pucher said.

He saw Sodoma as a skilled planner, looking years into the future and making the needed incremental changes to reach the goal.

Jason Smith, the current Lyndonville superintendent, was a high school social studies teacher when Sodoma encouraged him to pursue administration, first as dean of students and then as a vice principal in Albion. Smith would work as a principal in Elba before being hired as Lyndonville superintendent.

He remembers his first day at Lyndonville. There were flowers from Sodoma, with a card, “Call me if you need anything.”

Many teachers hired by Sodoma would go on to be superintendents, a legacy that includes Jeff Evoy in Medina, Roger Klatt in Barker and Roy-Hart, and Mickey Edwards in Wyoming. In addition, Carol D’Agostino is Kendall’s high school principal and Matt Calderon, a former Albion vice principal, is Pembroke’s district superintendent.

“His superintendent’s tree is quite large,” Smith said. “He encouraged a lot of people.”


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