Mormon chapel will be built at site of St. Teresa of Avila middle school

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D5

Date: Friday, November 18, 2011

ALBANY -- The city's Planning Board on Thursday night unanimously approved the demolition of the former St. Teresa of Avila middle school to make way for a new Mormon chapel, heeding a state judge's order handed down last month.

The panel's approval came only after an acting state Supreme Court Justice ruled in favor of the Mormon congregation in its lawsuit charging that the Planning Board had wrongly denied permission to raze the vacant school at the corner of New Scotland and Hollywood avenues.

Architect Donald Swartz said demolition work, which would begin with planning for the removal of asbestos from the five-decade-old school, could begin around Jan. 1 if the Planning Board has by then approved the proposed site plan for the chapel and 77-space parking lot.

Demolition of the actual building would continue through March, project engineer Daniel Hershberg said.

Some Helderberg Neighborhood residents opposed the project, citing concerns about traffic and arguing that the school building should be re-used, not razed.

The Planning Board initially agreed, ruling in February that the school -- sold by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for $1.34 million last year -- was part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

But the church sued, winning last month with a decision that seemed to leave the panel little option but to comply.

Jennifer and Bryan Viggiani, whose house on Pinewood Avenue is adjacent to the school, still urged the church to be vigilant about air pollution resulting from the demolition but praised the plan to have it finished by spring.

"Please get it done before people open their windows again in March," Jennifer Viggiani said. "Everything that you could do to make that a cleaner process for us, we very much appreciate."