Town of Pittsford certified a ‘Climate Smart Community’

The installation of solar panels at King's Bend Park was one of the sustainability initiatives implemented by the town of Pittsford
The installation of solar panels at King’s Bend Park was one of the sustainability initiatives implemented by the town of Pittsford. (Photo provided)

The town of Pittsford has received Bronze certification as a Climate Smart Community by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Bronze designation is recognition of the town’s commitment to sustainability and care for the environment.

Among the sustainability practices that were implemented:

» Replacing 95 percent of streetlights with LED fixtures;

» Installing solar panels at King’s Bend Park;

» Providing electric vehicle charging stations at Spiegel Community Center and Library;

» Implemented a composting program at the senior center.

“Together with our many other efforts, these measures contribute to a healthier environment for us all,” town supervisor Bill Smith said in a news release. “Climate Smart status is not an end; it is rather a milepost on the road to improved environmental health that Pittsford has traveled for years.”

Climate Smart Communities is a state program that encourages local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Certification means communities have completed and documented a series of actions intended to mitigate climate change at the local level.

Along with the town of Pittsford, the town of Geneva also received Bronze certification this week, joining three other local municipalities with that distinction: city of Rochester (certified in 2017), city of Geneva (2018), town of Brighton (2019) and city of Canandaigua (2019).

Just nine municipalities across the state have received Silver certification, with Erie County and Tompkins County the only two in the Western, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier or Central regions of New York.

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Pittsford bridge closed for repairs for six months

Construction is set to begin this week on the rehabilitation of the State Street Bridge over the Erie Canal in the village of Pittsford. The project is designed to preserve and extend the service life of the steel truss bridge, originally constructed in 1973, through the replacement or repair of aging structural elements on the bridge.

The Route 31 bridge is a direct link into the village of Pittsford’s Historic District and downtown businesses.

“The Erie Canal helped make New York the Empire State and today, it continues to spur commercial and economic activity in the village of Pittsford,” said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. “This project will extend the bridge’s service life for another 30 years and help preserve its contribution to the village’s Historic District and nearby Schoen Place, one of the most active waterfronts along the Erie Canal.”

The $3.58 million project will replace steel members, replace the concrete bridge deck and its sidewalks and approach slabs. Asphalt approaches to the bridge will be repaved. Once completed, the bridge will better accommodate users of the roadway and limit future disruptions to village businesses and destinations such as the public library and other municipal buildings, officials said.

The bridge was scheduled to close to traffic this week for up to six months. Following a public meeting in December 2019 and February 2020, the DOT has been in regular communication with village officials and first responders on the project to discuss the work involved and plans for an off-site detour, which will be in place during construction using Route 96, Route 31F, Route 153 and I-490. In addition, local traffic still will be able to access Route 31 up to the construction site on either side of the bridge.

“While this project is in the village, it does affect the many town residents, business owners and visitors who travel through the area each day,” said Pittsford Town Supervisor Bill Smith. “I’m grateful village Mayor Bob Corby continues to advocate for the good of the community and has been in close contact with the NYSDOT to ensure the project runs as efficiently and quickly as possible while minimizing its impact on our town and village residents.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

State comptroller’s audit follow-up finds issues with Pittsford budget process

The village of Pittsford has demonstrated limited progress implementing corrective actions with regard to its budget, a follow-up audit from the state comptroller’s office shows.

In a previous report issued in July 2017, auditors identified problems with the board’s oversight over the village’s financial operations. When auditors revisited the village in August 2020 to review progress, they found limited corrective actions had occurred. Of the seven audit recommendations, one recommendation was fully implemented, four recommendations were partially implemented and two recommendations were not implemented.

The village’s annual budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year was roughly $1.3 million and was funded primarily through real property taxes, sales tax, state aid and user charges.

In a letter to Pittsford Mayor Robert Corby and the village’s board of trustees this month, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office noted that the budgeting recommendation — that the board adopt budgets that realistically reflect the village’s operating needs based on historical or other known trends — was only partially implemented. DiNapoli noted that the board’s ability to adopt realistic budgets continues to be limited due to ongoing litigation.

“Despite efforts to approximate litigation expenditures using historical data and estimates provided by legal firms, legal expenditures exceeded the budget by approximately $266,000 (38 percent) from fiscal year 2018 through 2020,” according to the audit follow-up.

The board has since improved that facet of the budget, and DiNapoli noted that for fiscal 2020-2021, “with the exception of legal fees, the board generally budgeted reasonably and managed operations within budget.”

But the board, according to the audit review, “continued to adopt sewer fund budgets with overestimated expenditures.” From 2017-2018 through 2019-2020, expenditures were overestimated by $176,200, or 29 percent.

The original audit also recommended that the board monitor the level of fund balance and ensure that budgets are structurally balanced. Corrective action has been partially implemented in that regard, the comptroller’s letter states.

In the general fund, the board instituted a monthly review of fund balance, but despite that practice, the village was unable to maintain a level of 15 percent of the current year’s appropriations, and, in fact, the fund balance was less than 7 percent during 2018-2019. That had recovered to 12 percent for 2019-2020. The fund balance policy states that if the balance falls below the optimal level, the board will develop and adopt a fiscal plan to restore the balance within a five-year period. That wasn’t done, according to the letter from DiNapoli’s office.

The original audit found several problems within the village’s sewer fund.

“The board continued to adopt unbalanced budgets, resulting in net operating surpluses of approximately $213,000 from 2017-2018 through 2019-2020 and a net increase in unrestricted sewer fund balance of approximately $53,000,” according to the audit review. “However, unrestricted fund balance for the sewer fund ranged from 279 to 312 percent of appropriations. This level of unrestricted fund balance does not align with the village’s adopted policy nor is supported by long-term financial and capital plans.”

It was recommended in 2017 that the board adjust sewer rent rates to correspond with the actual annual cost of sewer services provided. That has not been implanted and the village continues to overcharge customers for sewer rent, according to the letter.

“Village officials have not adjusted sewer rent rates to correspond with the actual annual cost of sewer services provided. Sewer rent charges continued to significantly exceed annual sewer expenditures, resulting in operating surpluses,” the follow-up letter stated. “The board has not established appropriate reserves for future expenditures and to provide transparency to taxpayers regarding the use of surplus funds. As stated within the village’s corrective action plan, the village hired a dedicated sewer department employee following the prior audit. However, the employee left the position shortly after being hired and was not replaced.”

In addition, it was recommended in 2017 that the board discontinue making sewer fund transfers to its general fund and recover the money previously transferred. That has been partially implemented, with the village’s last transfer from the sewer fund to the general fund in 2018 for roughly $18,000. But village officials have not transferred back funds identified in the original audit or from the 2018 transfer.

It also was recommended the board develop a long-term financial plan to identify revenue, expenditure and fund balance trends for its sewer fund. That also has not been implemented, according to the comptroller’s letter. The board stated that it was in the process of developing a long-term financial plan for the sewer fund, but that it has been delayed due to various factors including personnel turnover and other priorities such as litigation.

The board has updated its procurement policy to provide clear guidance for procuring professional services as indicated in the original audit. It has partially implemented a recommendation that it enter into written agreements or approved detailed board resolutions for all individuals and firms who provide services.

The audit follow-up found that the village of Pittsford made improvements in maintaining written contracts with sufficient detail. The review included payments totaling $1.2 million made to 11 professional service providers between 2017 and 2020.

“We obtained and analyzed the written service agreements for sufficient detail. The village had sufficiently detailed written agreements on file for six of the professional service providers (55 percent), who received payments totaling $249,562,” according to the follow-up.

“During our review, we discussed the basis for our recommendations and the operational considerations relating to these issues,” the follow-up letter states. “We encourage village officials to continue their efforts to fully implement our recommended improvements.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

A move toward carbon-free electricity is growing in Rochester area

The power of bulk purchasing and carbon-free sources of energy are factors behind a wave of decisions local municipalities are making about buying electricity.

In the Rochester area, several communities have already agreed to engage with a community choice aggregator — an approved go-between that seeks power from non-carbon-producing sources of energy, such as wind, solar and nuclear power.

Brighton, Brockport, Irondequoit, Pittsford, Victor and Geneva have all agreed to go this route. Rochester’s City Council is considering the same.

Before last year, residential and business customers concerned about global warming basically had three choices. They could invest in and install their own electricity generation, such as solar panels. They could use information on their utility bills to opt out of the general mix of power production (including burning fossil fuels) and opt into forms of electricity that don’t add carbon to the atmosphere. Or they could rely on their utility companies to choose for them.

“Any consumer can choose where they want to pursue the electrons from,” said Sue Hughes-Smith, a principal of Roctricity, the local, administrative partner for JouleCommunity Power, the only community choice aggregator approved to operate in New York.  “We do the education piece. JouleCommunity Power will do the negotiating.”

A CCA essentially adds a fourth choice involving a municipality.

“This moves the decision from utilities to government,” Hughes-Smith said. With an entire community’s utility bills in hand, the CCA can seek bulk power deals. “Now you have a large number of households going to the energy market as one single voice,” she said. Working together under a single CCA, several communities can also influence the source of the power, not just the price, she said.

“Roctricity is interested in carbon-free energy,” Hughes-Smith said, so Joule will seek electricity produced by wind, solar, nuclear and other forms that don’t create carbon, she said. Consumers can still opt out, though. A spokesman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, which has been promoting more sustainable forms of energy, said when a CCA program is initiated in a community, utility customers will receive instructions on how to choose not to participate if they wish.

Joule Assets has US offices in Westchester County, NY, and Oregon; and European offices in Belgium and Italy. Roctricity was formed by Rochester-area people who have been advocating for cleaner sources of energy with the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition.

Roctricity has several upcoming public meetings — two are required in each community that decides to go with a CCA — to share information about the change in electricity purchasing in local communities. They are:

  • Tuesday, Dec. 3, for Brighton, 7 to 8 p.m. at Rustic Village Apartments, at the complex’s entertainment center across from parking lot 12.
  • Thursday, Dec. 5, for Pittsford, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Pittsford Village Hall, 21 North Main St., Pittsford.
  • Wednesday, December 11, for Pittsford, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the Pittsford Village Hall.

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Breathe yoga opens home decor shop

Breathe at home doesn’t feel like you’re in a colonial-era village in Upstate New York.

It feels a little like you’ve taken a detour to India. Perhaps by way of China. Or maybe with a detour to Tuscany.

“Beyond gorgeous!” sighed a woman who entered the breathe at home store one morning last week. The man who came in with her offered, “If I had a place in Greenwich Village, this is what I’d do.”

Cyndi Weis, owner of breathe yoga, welcomes guests at the grand opening of her breathe at home store. (Provided photo)
Cyndi Weis, owner of breathe yoga, welcomes guests at the grand opening of her breathe at home store. (Provided photo)

Breathe at home, the home and décor offshoot of breathe yoga, opened at 23 S. Main St. in Pittsford last November after an extensive renovation of the building that used to house the former Hicks and McCarthy restaurant. But renovation needs were so extensive — replacing the roof, removing floorboards down to the earth below — that a portion of the retail space wasn’t ready then. The back portion of the store opened Sept. 26.

Owner Cyndi Weis, who dreamed up the concept of a yoga studio that includes a retail space and a juice bar serving healthful meals, is bubbling over trying to describe her company’s newest growth spurt.  Breathe at home has existed for several years, but only became a brick-and-mortar retail shop since Thanksgiving 2018.

Indeed, breathe at home’s line of goods is hard to describe in a brief sentence. You might find a $12,000, five-foot statue of the Hindu elephant deity Ganesh; or cookbooks, including one devoted to uses of coconut; crystals of many sizes; pretty plates and table linens; delicately scented candles; pillows made with natural fibers; foot-long matches to light incense; bundles of sage or aromatic palo santo wood; tiny wooden spoons for serving condiments; bottled infusions of sparkling herbal tea; massive tables imported from India; and ornate carved wooden arches.

Patrons of breathe yoga will recognize the aesthetic, if not all the actual goods. The home business started in 2012 as a way to provide the same kind of furnishings for breath yoga franchises that existed in original Weis-owned stores. Decor consultations for customers outside the franchised stores were also available, but not well known.

Weis said customers at breathe yoga often tell her, “This is my happy place.” She feels they’re describing the lifting of tension and the feeling of relaxation they experience during their visits.

She’s carried the happy place feeling to breathe at home. Walking in breathe at home’s back door from the parking lot, customers pass a statue of Buddha and a fountain splashing on smooth rocks, setting the mood even before they enter the store and inhale mingled scents of grapefruit, pine, cinnamon and cardamom.

Inside, customers can sense they’ve arrived for an experience, not just a place to buy meditation candles.

Similarly, Weis said if yoga and meditation were the only things customers sought from breathe yoga, they could more easily roll out their mats on their own living room floors. The yoga business offers more than 200 classes a week in yoga and meditation, but patrons don’t practice those at all; they come for turmeric lattes, mushroom-based drinks, homemade cashew milk and, yes, coffee. The yoga practitioners also come for the atmosphere, the camaraderie, to pick up a gluten-free meal for takeout and maybe buy a candle to light later and relive the feeling of relaxation they felt while meditating.

“People can see that feeling doesn’t just need to be at breathe yoga,” Weis said. Breathe at home shows the feeling and relaxation aids can be replicated in homes, offices and dorm rooms.

“Gone are the days when meditation and yoga are new-agey,” Weis said, “Every person realizes they need to have those tools to combat insomnia, digestive disorders, migraines…”

Educated as a dietician and mental health counselor, Weis started breathe yoga in 2002 with her first establishment in Pittsford village. The yoga business was a way to use the skill she’d practiced since age 12 and keep herself busy after her daughters went off to college.

Both the business and the owner have evolved quite a bit since then. Weis was named the Small Business Person of the Year in 2016 by the Small Business Council of Rochester. Her daughters, Abby Rhodes and Carly Weis, have joined the business, as has her husband, Larry Weis, after retiring as a sales director for a metal company.

Today there are six breathe yoga establishments in the Rochester area and one in suburban Syracuse; Weis owns the Pittsford store, next door to breathe at home, and another breathe yoga on East Avenue in Rochester. Pittsford is the headquarters for her much expanded business, including a bakery and commissary kitchen to supply treats and meals to other stores in the chain. Much like Wegmans, the Pittsford breathe yoga is where Weis tests out new meal offerings and concepts.

Weis employs 66 people; 150 work at all the breathe stores in Rochester.

Breathe at home came into being after Weis started working on replicating her yoga business by way of franchises. The first breathe stores were decorated in relaxing, placid tones. But while attending a franchising conference in California, Weis dropped into an Indian import store and fell in love with a red table, the start of her old-world aesthetic.

She paid more to ship the table home than it cost to buy, and soon developed a relationship with the store owner. After a series of purchases, Weis said the owner offered to show her how to buy similar wares directly from a supplier in India. Thus began a connection with a third-generation dealer of antiques in India. It’s a connection that promises to continue evolving, much like the rest of breathe enterprises.

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Tech revolution sweeps Rochester-area classrooms

(Provided by Greece Central School District) About a dozen students at Greece Athena get hands-on experience by doing routine maintenance and repairs on hardware used by fellow students.
(Provided by Greece Central School District) About a dozen students at Greece Athena get hands-on experience by doing routine maintenance and repairs on hardware used by fellow students.

A 2009 high school graduate returning for her 10-year reunion might not recognize her old classrooms, which probably looked the same as when her parents sat there.

“I would say that in the last six years, there’s been more change in education than has been historically,” said Glen VanDerwater, executive director for instructional technology for the Rochester City School District. “The biggest changes prior to that may have been being able to project with overhead projectors or moving from dittoes to the inception of copiers.”
In the last few years, the influx of technology into everyday life has exerted physical and philosophical changes in classrooms.
Technology is letting students collaborate in new ways and getting them ready for jobs that may not yet exist. With the ability to look up any fact in an instant, lessons aren’t shaped around memorization but around critical thinking and how those facts are used.
“We’re preparing kids to be successful in what we don’t even know the world is going to be like,” said Annmarie Lehner, chief information officer for the Rochester City School District. “We’re teaching our kids now how to be lifelong learners.”

Annmarie Lehner
Annmarie Lehner

From the appearance and placement of desks to the way teachers provide instruction, the current classroom looks and feels like nothing before it. The thing is, the 2029 classroom may be equally foreign to the 2019 graduate as today’s is to older alumni.
“You and I may be looking at youth and saying, ‘Why can’t they make change, why can’t they do basic math?’” said Tom Mariano, executive director of technology, communications and strategic initiatives for the Greece Central School District. “Years from now, they’re going to be, ‘Why didn’t these kids learn how to separate truth from fiction online? How come these kids don’t know how to look up good information? How come these kids aren’t creating positive messages online, only negative messages?’ That would reflect a failure of parents and schools and communities in the area of technology because technology is everywhere.”
Over the past few years as technology has gone from a toy to an indispensable tool, classrooms morphed into dynamic places.
“Back in our day, the teacher might turn on the television if there was a news report of something happening at that moment,” Mariano said. “You’d be watching. You wouldn’t be contributing. Now we have the ability to connect both ways.”

Melanie Ward
Melanie Ward

Melanie Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction for the Pittsford Central School District, was first a building principal in the late 1990s. “Technology was very different at that point,” she said. “I’ve always been of the belief if we want to put technology in the hands of our students, it needs to be very purposeful, and it needs to be there to really enhance the learning experience, not just because it’s a shiny new toy or it’s a fancy version of a pencil and paper. … What does it mean to enhance the learning in a way that can’t be done without the technology there?”
Enhanced learning can mean several things.
For one, it leads to greater collaboration. Inside the classroom, portable furniture and smart wall and desk surfaces that are being installed in city schools let students group themselves according to project and write wherever they need to share their message.
In a sense, the tech-laden classroom doesn’t have any walls.
Students at Pittsford Sutherland and Pittsford Mendon collaborate in a virtual environment. Groups of three or four, who for the most part are in different classes and sometimes in different schools, build a website. “They work just as you would in the real world,” Ward said. “That’s a nice example of how we’re striving to use technology not just to motivate kids … but to raise the rigor and authenticity of the learning experience for our kids.”
In Greece, students use technology to go straight to a source. High schoolers at Athena performed a musical work for the composer who was in another state. Students at English Village Elementary School read a book, then contacted the author via Twitter and arranged a conversation.
The Rochester City School District is a Google district, which allows students more interaction at all stages of their assignments.

Glen VanDerwater
Glen VanDerwater

“When you or myself sat down and wrote a paper, we sat down at a typewriter or with pen and paper and wrote it out,” VanDerwater said. “Students now … instead of writing a report, maybe they write a blog and there’s threaded conversations within that blog, going back and forth with the teacher. We had some elementary school students write a blog and they went back and forth with their parents, and their parents participated in the lesson. Now students are having more of an interactive type experience as opposed to … just between the student and the teacher.”
Students have more opportunity to participate, said Lynn Girolamo, instructional technology teacher in the Greece district. In the old days, students had to raise their hands to participate, and some may have been shy or intimidated. With technology, students can submit comments, and the teacher may or may not use the student’s name when responding.
Enhanced learning also means individualized instruction. Everyone gets the same assignment, but they work at their pace and the teacher moves around the room to help students who are stuck.
“That’s something one single teacher physically can’t do while standing in front of the classroom,” he said.
Technology creates a challenge for teachers, many of whom did not grow up with this technology. Teachers in the Rochester City School District have to complete the first in a series of online professional development courses in order to receive Chromebooks for their class.

Tom Mariano
Tom Mariano

Greece also is working with instructors. “We’re spending time helping teachers reflect on changes,” said Mariano. “Some people believe that you’re going to walk into class, see 25 kids or maybe more, sitting with their eyes glazed over in front of a screen (and) there’s no need for a teacher. It’s actually the teacher making the decisions … and knowing how to respond in this new environment. The teacher is more important than ever.”
Gone are the days of the computer lab, where students shared hardware. That may be the case now only in lower elementary grades, where classrooms have banks of iPads or other devices. Many districts now supply each student in the upper grades with a device, likely a Chromebook. As a result, districts spend more on technology, with a big increase for software.
For example, in the 2007-08 academic year Pittsford spent $410,000 on hardware and the network and $8,000 on software for the public and private schools it supports. In 2017-18, the district spent $468,000 on hardware and infrastructure and $85,000 on software. The district does not supply a device for every student.
Ward said the district is guided by Tech Quest 8, a three-year plan that covers integrating technology and has budget projections.
The Rochester City School District received $47 million from a state bond, and so far has submitted plans for $27 million that includes upgrades to hardware and upgrades to the infrastructure.
While districts may give students more devices than in previous years, Chromebooks are less expensive than the desktop or laptop computers they replaced. Still, the cost can add up. Greece, for instance, spends about $700,000 a year on hardware. The district is training students to do repairs, and about a dozen Athena students fix about 20 Chromebooks a week.
Responsible use of technology is more than taking care of the equipment. District leaders said they teach digital citizenship so that students understand just how much power rests in their hands.
Many districts include some type of stewardship lessons, whether it’s a course or the message is delivered throughout the curriculum in a way appropriate to each grade.
“It’s our obligation as educators to teach kids, to work with them about healthy habits,” Mariano said. “When to put the technology away and when to pick it up. Help them develop ownership of that.”
Patti Singer is a freelance writer in Rochester. Contact her at [email protected]

(Provided by Greece Central School District) Students in the Greece School District fix about 20 Chromebooks a week. The work solves two issues: The need for routine maintenance and the desire to learn hardware repair skills.
(Provided by Greece Central School District) Students in the Greece School District fix about 20 Chromebooks a week. The work solves two issues: The need for routine maintenance and the desire to learn hardware repair skills.

The Kitchen wins Four Diamonds designation again

The Kitchen restaurant in the village of Pittsford has earned AAA’s Four Diamonds designation for the second year in a row.

Putting the final touches on dishes at The Kitchen
Putting the final touches on dishes at The Kitchen

The new list for the AAA Western and Central New York was released Thursday, Feb. 14. The Kitchen was the only one in the Rochester area.

Led by Executive Chef Joseph Cipolla, The Kitchen opened in December 2014 and earned the Four Diamonds rating for the first time in 2017, placing it on the Triple A list the following year.

Last month AAA Western and Central New York also released its list of Four Diamond hotels. No new arrivals were on the list, but they included the 1795 Acorn Inn in Bristol, and Geneva-On-The-Lake, both in Ontario County, and The Del Monte Lodge, a Renaissance Hotel & Spa,  in Pittsford.

A private reception honoring the restaurants and hotels on the Four Diamonds list will be held in April. To qualify for the list, establishments undergo an annual inspection by experts in the hospitality industry.

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Boxing fitness club opens this week

Title Boxing Club is marking its grand opening by offering free classes Thursday evening and Friday morning at the Pittsford club.

The first free class is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday and will be followed by a party and gym tour. A second free class begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Registration is required for both classes at Title, which is at 3240 Monroe Ave.

Registrations can be made by emailing [email protected], or calling (585) 585-203-7270

Participants are advised to wear work-out clothing and bring workout boxing gloves or wraps, which are available for loan or purchase at the boxing gym.

The club is part of a national chain of fitness gyms that utilize boxing methods.

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