ALBANY — The presidents of both the University at Albany and The College of Saint Rose will join forces to help shape a vision for a new Albany High School that will prepare city kids for college and careers in emerging high-tech economies, Mayor Jerry Jennings said Thursday.
Jennings, a former educator who has long backed the construction of a new home for the troubled school, announced the partnership Thursday night during his wide-ranging State of the City Address, in which he also hailed the success of a new homeownership program and again, despite growing doubts about state support for the project, renewed his call for a downtown convention center.
The mayor called on the city's higher education institutions — including UAlbany's fast-expanding College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering — to use their resources to help ensure Albany students are coming out prepared for future studies in the high-tech industries to which the city itself is hitching its future.
"Let's begin by having schools worthy of our children," Jennings said. "We could have one of the finest high schools in the world. Imagine what that would mean for our children. Imagine what that would mean for our city. Imagine what that would mean for our state."
To that end, Saint Rose President Mark Sullivan and UAlbany President George Philip — both of whom are planning to leave their posts in the near future — have agreed to chair a committee "focused on the creation of such a school," Jennings said.
Other details of the endeavor, including who else might serve on the committee, were scant. City schools Superintendent Ray Colucciello was across town at a Board of Education meeting at the time of Jennings' speech.
Jennings — former Albany High vice principal who as mayor has not let his heart or influence drift far from the district, despite the fact that he wields no direct authority over it — has been among the most vocal supporters of moving the high school from Washington Avenue to the open acreage of the Harriman State Office Campus.
Though Jennings has sparred with district leaders in the past, he and Colucciello have enjoyed a far more collegial relationship.
Albany schools spokesman Ron Lesko said the district was ready for a new beginning at the school and welcomed the mayor's support as well as that of the college presidents. Regardless of whether the school moves to Harriman, Lesko said the district already has a committee at work developing its future. He said increased collaboration between the city and local colleges will be a tremendous boost for the students.
"It's those kind of resources coming together that are going to make the new Albany High School a gem these kids and this community can be proud of," he said.
Not only would the move give the students at the school, which is under orders to improve academics or face a state takeover, a fresh start in modern facilities, but it would also represent an enticing redevelopment opportunity on a swath of land that is currently tax exempt.
A plan floated this fall called for the construction of a private dormitory on the site of the current 1970s-era high school just east of North Main Avenue, land that backs up against a midtown UAlbany dorm and the Saint Rose campus.
But Sullivan said he and Philip's charge is less about bricks and mortar and more about tapping their experience as college administrators.
"We need high school graduates that are coming out well-prepared for the rigors of college," Sullivan said. "I think it's more — not so much where and when — but ... how should a high school be developed really serves the growing economy."
The uniting theme of Jennings' 39-page speech was "working harder and stronger" — an ethic he said has helped the city redouble its efforts for code enforcement under new leadership and promote economic development despite increasingly strapped city budgets.
Among other things, Jennings lauded the success of the new Choose Albany homeownership program, first announced in September, which he said has already used more than $300,000 to help 25 people buy new homes in the city worth some $3.7 million in total real estate investment.
Jennings began his speech by heralding progress that police Chief Steven Krokoff and his command staff have made in building bridges with the community while making the city safer — a notable public vote of confidence in the weeks after Krokoff has found himself facing backlash for the department's handling of Occupy Albany and the fatal police shooting of an allegedly armed man in the South End.
And two days after remarks by Gov. Andrew Cuomo cast serious doubt about the future of the city's proposed $220 million downtown convention center, Jennings made a point of explicitly thanking Cuomo for his support of the city so far and his personal friendship. But the mayor also again sounded the call for the "long overdue" facility.
"It's a catalyst. It's a transformational project," Jennings said. "If you have questions about it, you have to look at the bigger picture."
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