Relocation of Union College Boathouse is crucial to supporting the Schenectady community

Michael Rosenbaum, News Editor

Union College invited writer and Schenectady citizen William Patrick as the guest speaker to the 2022 Founder’s Day celebration, a celebration of 227 years as a chartered college. And in introducing Patrick, President David Harris stated “The city and the college are inextricably linked.” Patrick’s own speech harped on the importance of Union College’s support for the Schenectady community in concrete ways. Union’s invitation to Patrick should be seen as nothing but an endorsement of those ideas. But even now, there is a way that Union College could immeasurably help the Schenectady community and is failing to do so: Union College needs to move their Boathouse.

Most Union students have likely not heard of the plan to move an entire street in the middle of Schenectady, houses, utilities, and all. And yet not ⅘ of a mile away from the Nott Memorial, there is a plan on Ingersoll Avenue to remove the houses (literally on massive chassis) from that block and place them one block East on the road where the Union College Boathouse is right now. This evokes two questions: why do these houses need to be moved and what is Union’s role in all of this?

The houses on Ingersoll Avenue, and more generally houses North of Front Street are at extreme risk of flooding. Most of that wider area is within the 100 year floodplain, which is bad for reasons I will return to, but Ingersoll Avenue has it the worst. The street is on the lowest ground of that neighborhood and the lowest parts of that street are on the five year flood plain. The way that a 100 or five year floodplain is established is rather technical, but put simply, there is a good chance that every five years, the houses along Ingersoll Avenue will flood. Houses on the 100 year floodplain run the risk of being flooded once every 100 years. This is, generally speaking, bad, especially so if powerful storms like Hurricane Irene become more frequent. 

However, right to the East of the low ground of Ingersoll Avenue is a plateau of higher land. This land is mostly outside of the 100 year floodplain. Those who have been to the Boathouse should remember just how high it is compared to Ingersoll Avenue. Union College owns the northern part of the plateau street (which, rather unhelpfully, has no official name). Currently that land is used for the Boathouse. In order to move the houses off Ingersoll Avenue, the space that the Boathouse currently occupies would have to be moved as well. 

What is Union doing about this? It’s unclear. They certainly haven’t made any official announcements to the effect that they have settled the issue and are moving the Boathouse elsewhere. If there is official support by Union College for the movement of houses on Ingersoll Avenue, it has been insufficient. Union’s plans, assuming there are defined plans, have created the effect of one foot in and one foot out, but that is not enough to cross the threshold. 

Union College should care about their neighbors in Schenectady. This care should take a defined form as it has in the past. And here we see a significant issue that impacts the community. There are already multiple plans to remediate the flooding on Ingersoll Avenue. The plan for moving the houses, including one favored by residents, created by PLACE Alliance, on Ingersoll Avenue is like moving pieces in a game of Rush Hour. Without Union doing its part, any plan to help the people along Ingersoll will be so much more difficult.