January 4, 2007

Taking center stage

State grant will fund musical performances

Blue Frog

Cortland Standard
Karina Murphy, left, owner of the Blue Frog Coffeehouse on Main Street in Cortland, performs with Colleen Kattau as Wednesday Womyn at the Blue Frog in 2005. The coffeehouse is among area venues for more than 90 musical performances funded by a $500,000 state grant to SUNY Cortland.

Staff Reporter

More than 90 musical performances are set for a variety of Cortland-area venues over the next year, all part of a $500,000 state grant that SUNY Cortland received last month.
Regional and national artists will perform in the area for the first time, new musical pieces have been commissioned and will premiere locally, and local musicians and students will be involved the whole way through.
Sheila Cohen, an associate professor of literacy at SUNY Cortland and chair of the college’s Center for Multicultural and Gender Studies — and a board member of the Center for the Arts, which helped initiate the grant proposal — will be handling educational outreach at the elementary and high schools.
The Gerry Eastman Quintet, a jazz group scheduled to perform at the Center for the Arts in Homer on Jan. 15, will hold workshops with the Homer Jazz Ensemble and both vocal ensembles at Homer High School.
“That improvisation workshop will be available to music students, vocal students, and members of the community as observers,” Cohen said. “There are many other events planned for students, and that was the very critical piece, the education piece, in addition to the performances.”
Such local artists as Charlie Bertini and Steve Daniels also will be involved in the workshops, as well as the Main Street Music Series.
Over the next two years, such venues as the Center for the Arts; the Arts at Grace series at Grace Episcopal Church on Court Street; the Blue Frog Coffee House and Lucky’s bar, both on Main Street; the city’s Main Street Music Series; the SUNY Cortland campus, and even various area schools will see more than 90 musical performances in a variety of genres.
The $500,000 grant was awarded to SUNY Cortland and the newly formed Central New York Arts Coalition at the end of December. The funding comes from the New York State Music Fund, which was created when the state attorney general’s office resolved investigations against major record companies accused of violating state and federal laws prohibiting them from paying money to ensure air play for their artists.
The money will be reimbursed to venues that present artists and genres that might not have the backing or representation of big-name recording companies, and to stimulate artist-to-community outreach programs and music education.
The Center for the Arts will host mainly jazz, world music and different types of folk music. One of the first performances that will receive this grant money is that of Johannes Lindstead, a celebrated virtuoso of Spanish guitar, on Jan. 27, executive director Daniel Hayes said.
“There’re some wonderful happenings here in Cortland County,” Hayes said last week. “There’s no reason Cortland County can’t be the stopover between Buffalo and New York City … I see some great things going on here in the next five years.”
Folk musician U. Utah Phillips, whom Hayes describes as “right up there with Woody Guthrie,” will perform at the center in February, and Nigerian-born world musician Ola Onabule will perform in March.
“He’s taking Europe by storm, he’s got a four-octave voice and he sounds just like Marvin Gaye,” Hayes said of Onabule.
The Blue Frog Coffee House will host predominantly folk performances, said owner Karina Murphy, and she relied on Colleen Kattau, an associate professor of Spanish at the college as well as a folk musician, to help line up folk acts.
One of the key performances, to be held in April, will be folk storytellers and political satirists Charlie King and Karen Brandow.
Kattau also will be coordinating some performances at the college.
“It’s going to enable us to do some remarkable things that we wouldn’t be able to do,” Murphy said Tuesday. “A lot of the time, we bring in remarkable musicians, but we aren’t able to give them what they’re worth. … Myself, Lucky’s, the Main Street Music Series and Arts at Grace have been working very hard with very little, so it’s very gratifying and a relief to have some of these financial concerns taken off our shoulders.”
Lucky’s owner Bob Catalano will host Bring Back Blues at his venue on the first Friday of each month. He said the lineup should include several nationally known names in contemporary Chicago-style, Texas-style and other types of blues. The first performer will be Bill Perry Blues Band on Feb. 2.
David Neal, associate professor of performing arts at the college, will coordinate musical theater productions at SUNY Cortland and the Arts at Grace series.
The musical theater program will bring in established professional players to mentor performers in the pit orchestra and the college community orchestra, Neal said.
“One of the most exciting things is that it provides money towards a commission for a lyricist and musical composer,” Neal said. “They are going to be writing a new work, so we’re going to have a world premiere of a new musical theater work put on by our students.”
The work will premier in spring 2008, Neal said, and lyricist Michael L. Cooper and composer Hyeyoung Kim will work with the students as they develop the piece, which will be called “Luna Park.”
The Arts at Grace classical music series has also commissioned a piece for voice and chamber by composer Robert Paterson that will also be premiered in spring of 2008. Other performances will include the Opera Cowpokes, which Neal said is the only blending of opera and country and western music that he is aware of.
The Cortland Classical Music Festival, organized by classical guitarist John Sikora, will take place in February at the Blue Frog Coffee House, and Sikora said he hopes to expand the performances throughout the year and extend into venues such as St. Mary’s Church in Cortland and areas such as Marathon.
“My focus is as much as I can, on local professionals and students,” Sikora said. “The musical festivals that I have been running are, in some form, outreach where you have this mixture of professionals and amateurs working in the same space.”
Sikora also is working on a Web site that will feature audio clips, artist bios and links, and even podcasts that will allow artists who choose to feature their music online.


Jury is selected in Gratton trial

Staff Reporter

Opening statements in the trial of Judy Gratton, accused of starving her 5-year-old son, began this morning in Cortland County Court.
The statements came after a hearing at which County Judge William F. Ames agreed to admit into evidence videotapes of the boy made Tuesday by police.
The hearing at 8:30 a.m. delayed the start of opening statements to about 10.
Jury selection concluded Wednesday afternoon with the selection of six men, six women and two women alternates.
Gratton is represented by attorney Ira Pesserilo. District Attorney David Hartnett and Assistant District Attorney Robert McGraw are prosecuting.
On Wednesday afternoon the attorneys presented arguments to Ames over the admissibility of police photos and another videotape made in March that pictures the boy in an allegedly starved condition.
Although Pesserilo argued the tape is only meant to outrage the jury and should not be presented, Ames ruled the tape, which he called “very graphic,” is admissible as evidence.
“I’d agree if this were solely done for the purpose of being inflammatory,” he said. “However, it is clearly relevant towards intent.”
With the tape coming into evidence, Pesserilo then argued that if the jury sees the tape it should also see the child in his current condition.
Pesserilo said the tape does not show how long the child was in the sickly condition, stating he could have come down with something and _gotten very sick overnight, and then quickly _recovered.
“If the video is to be shown and the jury is to see him as he was then, the jury should be able to see him as he is now,” Pesserilo told the court.
McGraw disagreed with Pesserilo’s assertions, raising his voice in anger at the possibility of the boy appearing in front of the court.
“What are you going to do, come in here and feed him, Ira?” he asked. “It’s ridiculous. It’s totally ridiculous.”
Ames ruled in favor of Pesserilo, saying the child’s recovery from the alleged starvation may play a role in the level of depravity Gratton allegedly exercised, a key part of the first-degree reckless endangerment charge.
Gratton is also charged with first-degree assault, a felony, three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and possession of marijuana, a violation.
“The worse the condition, the worse the depravity; the less the condition, the less the depravity,” Ames said. “The defense has a right to put a case on.”
The child’s lawyer, David Alexander, was present at this morning’s hearing to represent the child’s interests.
Gratton was arrested in March after city police said they found the 5-year-old boy starving in a crib. Police said the boy weighed only 15 pounds at the time.


County looks at Route 281 drainage

Staff Reporter

County officials are hoping to form a partnership with the state during its Route 281 expansion project in an effort to reduce flooding along Otter Creek in the city.
The county’s subcommittee on flooding met Wednesday with representatives of the state Department of Transportation to discuss the DOT’s stormwater management plans for the expansion, which will widen the Route 281/Route 13 corridor between Lime Hollow Road in Cortlandville and the Interstate 81 Exit 12 access road in Homer.
County and city representatives weighed in on preliminary plans, presented by DOT engineer Allen Cowen, to build a stormwater detention pond on land between the city waterworks and the Country Inn and Suites along Route 281, suggesting that another similar, locally-built pond adjacent to the DOT’s would help reduce flooding in the city.
The DOT is looking to acquire just over 2 acres of land from the owners of the Country Inn to create the detention pond, Cowen said.
While the detention pond would primarily handle storm water runoff from the expanded five-lane Route 281, committee members were hopeful the DOT would consider working on a larger detention area.
“I’m hoping we can discuss the feasibility of purchasing additional land behind that parcel and creating another detention area to help reduce the capacity further down the creek,” said Committee Chairman Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward).
Tytler said she hoped to meet with DOT Regional Director Carl Ford within the next month to discuss essentially creating an additional detention pond on the neighboring parcel, also owned by the owners of the Country Inn property.
“Hopefully we can convince the state to come on board, and ideally even put some money on the table,” she said.
The detention pond would include oil/water separators to remove oil from the runoff before the water eventually enters the ground, Cowen said, but ultimately, due to grading in the area, the proposed detention pond would have little impact on flooding further along the streambed and into the city.
The DOT is still negotiating for the purchase of the initial parcel, according to DOT design engineer Gene Cilento.




Trails, rails benefit from governor’s final largess

Staff Reporter

In his final days as governor, George E. Pataki approved $62.3 million funding for recreational trails and rail funding, $1.6 million of which went to local projects.
The Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club in Whitney Point is eligible to received $100,000 to purchase a new tracked groomer to maintain 150 miles of snowmobile trails that connect with snowmobile clubs in Cortland, Broome, Chenango and Tioga counties.
Ridge Riders President Sue Marsh said the grant would only cover part of the cost for the groomer machine. Marsh said that a new Class A groomer would cost between $130,000 and $150,000.
“We can spend as much as we want for the groomer,” said Marsh. “But the grant covers up to $100,000.” She added that the club has to buy the groomer and the state would then reimburse it.
Marsh said that club would use fundraisers to come up with the additional money.
Also announced last week, Owego & Harford Railway Inc. based in Owego, is slated to receive $1.5 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year for 26 miles of track improvements in Tioga and Cortland counties.
Carol Breen, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, said the construction is likely to begin in 2010. Breen said it depends on how quickly the company can receive bids on the project.
The president of Owego & Harford Railway Inc., Steven May, said he is just a tenant on the track and it is owned by Tioga County Industrial Development Agency.
May said the track runs from Harford Mills south toward Owego.
Breen said Owego & Harford Railway Inc. received $1.25 million from 2005 to 2007.
She said the purpose of the $1.25 million is to “work on the crossing on George Street in Tioga County to restructure turnout siding on the track — when two trains are passing each other it removes one train from the track temporarily so the other could pass.
Work is scheduled to begin on the track later this year.
Breen said the improved tracks would be a benefit to Central New York.
“It will help businesses grow and expand,” Breen said. “It will be a reliable track.”



Homer seeks other proposals after delays in Town Hall work

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Town Board decided Wednesday to seek at least one additional proposal for the elevator project and courtroom renovations at the Town Hall after expressing dissatisfaction with delays on the current portico work.
Board member Kevin Williams said there are architectural firms other than Crawford & Stearns, from Syracuse. He suggested the firm of Holmes King Kallquist & Associates, Architects, also from Syracuse, and said a local man, C. Jeffrey Taw, works there as an architect. Williams suggested the board seek requests for proposals from both companies for the elevator and courtroom work.
Crawford & Stearns was hired to provide architectural services, prepare bid documents and to oversee the construction phase of the portico work. The town has paid $19,000 for these services, plus an additional $2,000 for additional time spent dealing with the delays, said Town Clerk Anita Jebbett. The firm has also been paid $5,000 for the preliminary work done on the elevator and courtroom renovations, she said.
Williams suggested this after Town Supervisor Fred Forbes reported that Crawford & Stearns had not submitted proposals for the elevator cost yet.
The board granted preliminary approval to Crawford & Stearns on Dec. 6 to expand on the drawings for the wheelchair-accessible elevator and renovating the courtroom. At the time, Randy Crawford had given the board preliminary estimates on the costs of the projects at $211,000 for the elevator and $250,000 for the courtroom renovations. The entire project was slated to take about two years to complete. The portico project was started this summer.
Randy Crawford said this morning he has a proposal ready to mail for the next step — design drawings for the elevator and courtroom renovations. Forbes said he had talked to Crawford requesting the proposal, but didn’t set a deadline for receiving it.
Forbes also reported that Yaman Construction has yet to finish the portico work, including the steps. Forbes said Crawford & Stearns had found some of the work unacceptable, but had not pushed for the work to be completed as soon as it should have.
The portico work was to be completed by Dec. 8, Forbes said, and the town had also given a 30-day grace period before Yaman would be charged for late work. Tuesday the grace period ends and the company will be charged $100 a day for being late.
Mirsad Sahbaz, Yaman Construction supervisor for the project, said the delay in work was caused because the pre-cast stone fabrication did not fit the shop drawing. He said when the casting work was done by Steps Plus from Syracuse, it made an error in the dimensions. “Every piece has to be fabricated,” Sahbaz said. “It’s a tough job.”
Sahbaz said the work will be two to three weeks late.
Forbes asked Pat Snyder, the town’s attorney, who owns the architectural drawings for the elevator, the town or Crawford & Stearns. Snyder said the town, but added that another firm might not want to be bound by the drawings. Snyder said it would be appropriate to seek proposals from other firms for the elevator work.
“Weather certainly has not been an issue,” said Forbes. He said he had hoped the entryway work would have been completed so people could enter the building from the front to pay their taxes, which are due by the end of January. Now, a side entrance must be used.
“The town is not satisfied with the way things are going on the front of the building. Maybe a different architect would have gotten the ball going sooner or maybe not,” Forbes said. “The board needs to keep its options open.”
Williams agreed to contact Taw and the architectural firm he works for.
The board also held the first of two public hearings Wednesday night on applying for a $400,000 state Small Cities Community Development Block Grant. The board had applied for this grant both in 2005 and 2006, but was turned down, Forbes said.