School Street Hydroelectric Generating Facility
In the summer of 2006, Brookfield Power launched a project at its 38-MW School Street hydropower plant in Cohoes, New York, designed to enhance the surrounding area and demonstrate the company’s commitment to the city. Although Brookfield Power is already pursuing enhancements at the site as part of its 40-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license, this effort exceeded the company’s required improvements to highlight its commitment to being a good neighbor.
Cohoes Falls is New York’s largest waterfalls after Niagara. The spot is a popular recreational and scenic destination, and the School Street plant has been an important cultural site since its opening in 1915. Brookfield Power worked with local officials to reflect these priorities in its improvements, ensuring that enhancements to Overlook Park and other changes at the facility blend with the area’s aesthetics. The company also designed the enhancements to complement Craner Park, an adjacent site it also helped renovate.
Today, visitors to Cohoes Falls can enjoy landscape designs, improved picnic facilities, new benches, and a spectacular view of the waterfalls. Less obvious enhancements include upgrades to the powerhouse and gatehouse, both of which appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Brookfield Power’s efforts ensure that its neighbors in Cohoes – and visitors from around the world – can enjoy the site and appreciate its continuing contributions to the community.
The 38-MW School Street facility sits downstream of the historic Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River in the City of Cohoes, New York. The hydropower facility was built in 1915. Plant owner and operator Brookfield Power received a 40-year FERC operating license in February 2007. However, prior to the license renewal, Brookfield Power began a comprehensive improvement project at this historic power plant, further demonstrating the company’s commitment to the surrounding community. The project honors the School Street project’s cultural and historical significance and its contribution to the city’s historic district. These enhancements go beyond the improvements the company is currently making as required by its FERC operating license.
The three main components of the School Street site enhancement plan included exterior building improvements, grounds maintenance, and access road improvements. Adhering to the National Park Service Preservation Briefs, the company used materials and methods consistent with the facility’s historic surroundings, and it received state and city historic approval before proceeding with the enhancement project.
In keeping with the major cultural and historic aspects of this project, Brookfield made significant aesthetic improvement to Overlook Park. With new pavers, landscaping, benches, and picnic facilities, visitors now have a year-round, unobstructed view of the beautiful Cohoes Falls.
Brookfield Power also provided funding for Fraser Engineering, an Albany, New York-based firm, to work with the Cohoes Remembers Veterans Committee to develop plans for Craner Veterans Park adjacent to the site. The company’s contribution supported the detailed redesign and construction for Craner Park and provided a way for Brookfield Power to honor Lt. Col. Robert R. Craner, a local Cohoes hero and Vietnam War veteran, who was a prisoner-of-war alongside Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The redesigned park features new pavers, flagpoles, and sod, as well as a new biographical signboard offering details about the park’s namesake
Because the School Street plant is part of the City of Cohoes’ Harmony Mills National Historic Landmark District, preserving the facility’s look, feel, and historic integrity was a challenge and priority for Brookfield Power. From the planning process through construction, Brookfield used materials and designs that ensured the plant would remain compatible with other local sites. Working with local historic preservation officials, the company even incorporated techniques recommended by the National Parks Service into its construction efforts.
The three main components of the School Street site enhancement plan included exterior building improvements, grounds maintenance, and access road improvements. Brookfield used materials and methods consistent with the facility’s historic surroundings throughout the effort.
The lower gatehouse and the powerhouse required the most work, and because both buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places listing of the Harmony Mills National Historic Landmark District, Brookfield made a special effort to protect their historic value during the enhancement. The lower gatehouse, constructed in 1915, lies between the fore bay and the powerhouse. It is a steel-framed brick and concrete building, 152 feet long, 48.5 feet wide, and 57.5 feet high, containing trash racks and five steel head gates. The powerhouse is a steel framed brick building measuring 170 feet long by 78 feet wide, housing five generating units.
- Exterior building improvements: Masonry repair, new windows, exterior lighting, and painting.
- Grounds maintenance: Concrete resurfacing, removal or underground relocation of retired-in-place above-ground transmission equipment and overhead power lines, and removal of vegetation along the power canal bank.
- Access road improvement: Brookfield Power replaced the facility’s access road off the main thoroughfare and aligned it with a new road. The road is supported by a retaining wall that crosses and partially fills in the existing gully near the lower gatehouse.
Brookfield Power’s efforts have offered immediate benefits to the community. The School Street facility’s refreshed look harmonizes it with other parts of the local historic district and enhances its visual appeal. The newly reconstructed Overlook Park is now a popular recreational destination for neighbors and visitors alike. And, the community has a better understanding of Brookfield Power’s commitment to the town – the company receives almost daily compliments from both local residents and other park visitors.
Local officials have expressed their appreciation, too. On October 10, 2007, representatives from the New York State Conservation Council, Inc., and the Rensselaer County Conservation Alliance, Inc., joined Cohoes Mayor John McDonald III at the official ribbon cutting for Overlook Park. Both organizations also presented Brookfield Power’s General Manager Tom Uncher with plaques in appreciation of the company’s stakeholder relations efforts during the historical enhancement project, as well as its outreach during the School Street settlement agreement and FERC relicensing process. RCCA issued a press release to the local media regarding the award Brookfield Power received at the ribbon cutting.
Local media coverage turned out for the October 2007 ribbon cutting, with a pre-ribbon cutting article, a post-event, front page story, and a four-page photo montage in the Troy Record. Albany’s ABC television affiliate WTEN Channel 10 also broadcast a segment about the opening on its morning news show.
“These improvements will preserve the historical aspect of the School Street facility and the nearby Harmony Mills Historic District, protect this natural hydropower resource, and add to the quality of life for Cohoes residents and visitors to the city. Brookfield Power’s improvements, in concert with our efforts to increase tourism to this area via our recreational trails, lighting of the Cohoes Falls and the revitalization of the Harmony Mills, will all create a dramatic sense of place.” — Mayor John T. McDonald III, City of Cohoes, New York
“The recent improvements at the Cohoes Falls hydroelectric site constitute a substantial enrichment of one of the most significant locations in RiverSpark, New York State’s first Heritage Area. We routinely bring visitors from far and wide, from school children to seniors, from the disadvantaged to the V.I.P., to view this historic natural and industrial wonder. They stand within a city block of the route of the original Erie Canal, alongside what was once the largest cotton textile mill in the nation and is now a National Historic Landmark, on the very same overlook that has dazzled visitors for centuries. Because of the recent upgrades to the property, they get to see essentially the same scene that the naturalist Audubon painted over 175 years ago. I wish every historic site in our Heritage Area would get such treatment.” — Thomas Carroll, PhD, Executive Director, RiverSpark Heritage Area and Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, Troy, New York
“We are impressed with major enhancements currently underway by Brookfield Power. The company continues to effectively demonstrate how to partner with various stakeholders to preserve renewable resources.” — Howie Cushing, Rensselaer County Conservation Alliance, Inc., Troy, New York
“Brookfield Power’s flexibility and ‘can do’ attitude established a positive partnership with us as we began to implement increased water flow for wildlife and heritage tourism at Cohoes Falls. Their interest and support in creating quality wayside exhibits on the history and environment of the second largest waterfall in the northeast has been refreshing.” — Frank Dean, Executive Director, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Waterford, New York