You could say that Bob Schiavoni is the “Comeback Kid.” This baseball-loving, doodle-scribbling, bagpipe-playing Department of Public Works Superintendent for the City of Glens Falls has been in and out of the superintendent’s seat since 1985.
Following in his father’s footsteps — he worked for the city for 30 years — Bob began his career as a foreman in 1956 while he was getting his schooling.
“All together I’ve been here 50 years. I became assistant superintendent in the 1970s after doing time as a blacktop foreman,” Bob recalled. “I was appointed superintendent of public works (a/k/a highway superintendent) — for the first time — in 1985. I’ll be honest. It was politics that brought me to the job. The mayor asked me if I wanted the job and I accepted, of course. I have been superintendent off and on ever since.
“I had been superintendent for 20-plus years when a new administration came [in to power]. I went back to being a foreman. When that administration left I became superintendent again. Then in 2001 — at the age of 62 — I was told it was time to retire. So I retired for another five or six years until a new administration came in and the mayor called and asked me to come back yet again. During those five years the city had a different superintendent each year.”
So why does he keep coming back?
“It’s the people mostly; trying to help out and knowing that you can. I really didn’t want to come back this last time because I was retired. But the way the crew was set up … they had a hard time with it. They had five superintendents in as many years. That is hard for the men — not for me but for them.”
Bob grew up in the eastern part of Glens Falls with his parents and brother. He attended St. Mary’s School and Glens Falls High School. He also did a brief stint with the Cornell Local Roads Program. The Cornell Local Roads Program provides training, technical assistance, and information to municipal officials and employees responsible for the maintenance, construction, and management of local highways and bridges in New York State. It is one of 58 Centers established under the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) of the Federal Highway Administration.
Married to his wife, Donna, for 20-plus years, the couple has five daughters, one son, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
One of Bob’s passions is the bagpipes. “I play the Scottish bagpipes in a band with kilts and all. We play every weekend at weddings, funerals and ceremonial events like parades.”
Bob’s best “gig” was the one he did for Paramount Pictures. “The vice-president of Paramount was in Saratoga looking for a piper to play for an opening of the movie “Braveheart.” He called the village of Argyle, which was settled by the Scots in the 1700s, and they gave him my name. They knew me because my wife is from there. I went to meet with them not really knowing what it was about. The studio was having a “demonstration” [screening] of the film before the general public saw it and they wanted a bagpiper to play before the movie started. I didn’t take any money. Instead, I asked for a letter saying I played for Paramount Pictures.”
When he’s not playing the bagpipes Bob enjoys watching a good game of baseball. He also is a member of the Highway Superintendent’s Association of Warren County.
Bob’s retirement — whenever that may be — will close the curtain on more than a half-century of service to the residents of Glens Falls. Not bad for the son of immigrant parents. “I came from the east end of town and wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but I worked my way up to become the superintendent of public works. That’s America.”
Doing the Job
The Glens Falls Department of Public Works is responsible for street cleaning, road maintenance, collecting yard waste, snow and ice control, sidewalk construction, street lighting, traffic control lights, sign and street line painting and maintaining all city-owned parks, recreation facilities and green areas within the street, all city-owned buildings and grounds and all water, sanitary sewer and storm water infrastructure within the city’s streets.
The department’s first home was built in the 1940s. Inferior electrical and water systems forced it to move into a new facility. In the 1960s, with Bob’s help, an old warehouse was converted into the present headquarters. There are 13 bays for equipment and another four for the mechanics.
The department also has a 300-ton capacity salt storage shed. “We use about 100 tons per storm mainly because of the city’s hospital. Glens Falls Hospital is centrally located to Fort Edward, South Glens Falls, Hudson Falls and Kingsbury. There are three main hills coming into the city that have to be dry at all times,” Bob explained.
“All of that salt is necessary to take care of the gravel roads. Pure salt goes down on the main streets, downtown and those hills. Salt and sand is used for the secondary roads, which are mostly the community roads where a heavy concentration of salt isn’t required.”
One of Bob’s most memorable job experiences came during the city of Buffalo’s 1977 blizzard. “My mechanic and I volunteered to help the city out for one month. It was quite a statement. There were 10-foot snow banks. People were dying. I was scared to death. A small town boy going to a big city under those circumstances was tough,” he remembered.
“One day we were running a snow blower during a whiteout when suddenly there was a loud noise. We saw — and heard — a piece of yellow plastic flapping. I said to Leo, ‘Are you going to see what we have or am I?” We thought we had picked up a man. It turned out to be a pup tent that had been set up in the middle of the street. Luckily the people left or we would have caught them in it.”
Another scary on-the-job moment for this superintendent happened in 1999.
“I was in an auto accident during my shift and got pretty banged up,” he said. “I ran into a tree head-on to avoid hitting a car. A person had turned in front of me. When she did I saw kids in the back seat so I did my best to avoid them. I hit the curb causing my foot to slip off the brake and onto the accelerator. I was paralyzed. I had brain surgery and now have two plates in my head. God smiled on me [that day].”
As superintendent, it is Bob’s job to maintain the city’s 120 lane miles of road. That translates into 15 plowing routes that take about four hours to complete. “We plow with tandems [wing plows] in the city. I don’t think too many places do that. We just started this past winter and it worked out well. Public works departments don’t plow like cities. When we plow it’s a different world. Most of the towns and cities plow and then go home. We can’t. We have to stay until it’s done because there are so many cars.”
Taking care of those roads requires careful planning. A map of the city’s streets hangs on one of Bob’s office walls. It is color-coded for paving according to each street’s condition.
“The map gets updated every year. During the winter we check the different areas for potholes and the like. Last year we paved 3.5 miles of city streets. The roads were so bad that some of them had to be filled in with stone dust before we could pave. Typically, you never put stone dust in the city but it was an emergency situation.”
The Department of Public Works also maintains the city’s eight parks, baseball stadium, ice rink and all city buildings. And — last year alone — it replaced 2.5 miles of sidewalks and curbs.
Bob and his crew of 37 full-time employees serve the city’s 15,000 residents. His staff — all MEOs — includes Jon Altizio, Kevin Aratare, Larry Baker, John Barrett, Steve Berkowitz, Donald Billington, Robert Blake, Robert Bren, James Brown, Kevin Brown, William Cafaro, Patrick Clark, Phil Cooper, Timothy Culligan, Martha Davis, Mike Davis, Doug Dickinson, James Dingman, Richard Elmer, Thomas Esford, James Finnegan, Donald Gale, Mark Jarvis, Brian Kelly, Daniel Knight, Marc Lambert, Charles Lozo, Lloyd McQuain, Dan Meade, John Mulligan, Ronald Nichols, Paul Ramsey, Dean Rozell, Steve Schraver, Jack Webb, Darrell Woods and Carrie Lord, senior account clerk.
“My crew is the best,” Bob boasted. “I have 30 men and women and three foremen. At one time I had 70 employees. Each one does his or her own thing. I watch over them but I let them be creative. I’ve been here 50 years and I can tell you it works better that way.”
Under Bob’s watchful eye, the city of Glens Falls Department of Public Works functions on a total operating budget of $3,000,600 that includes employee salaries and benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $300,000.
To help get the job done, the department uses an extensive fleet of equipment that includes:
• 14 dump trucks
• 1 compactor
• 1 utility vehicle
• 2 salt trucks
• 2 graders
• 4 backhoes
• 1 push loader
• 1 sweeper
• 2 rollers
• 1 air compressor
• 2 bucket trucks
• 4 vans
• 12 pick-ups
• 5 front-end loaders
• 1 snow blower
• 2 snowmobiles
• 5 4-door sedans
• 9 trailers
• 1 leaf vac
• 5 mowers
• 1 6-wheeler
• 1 bulldozer
• 1 generator
• 4 Suburbans
• 1 rescue vehicle
• 1 ladder
• 1 WSR
“Our mechanics are busy boys,” Bob said. “They are responsible not only for our equipment but all the police department’s vehicles as well. All the mechanics are certified New York State inspectors.”
With the current state of the economy Bob admitted it’s not always easy to upgrade his armada.
“The way it is today you are lucky you get anything. You have to maintain what you have and not spend money freely. I would like to have all new equipment, but you can’t do it. We bought two new trucks last year. Usually we purchase our vehicles through state bidding, other times we bond and when it’s viable we lease.”
Today’s equipment has made great strides over the past 50 years.
“When I was a kid I used a three-wheel roller you had to hand-crank. I’m dating myself now. You had to fill a vacuum up with gasoline to start it. You couldn’t crank it with your hand. You had to kick it over with your foot. Nowadays the equipment is much easier to operate.”
No matter when Bob hangs up his superintendent’s hat he is assured a placed in the city’s history. “In 2001 they named a swimming pool after me.”
About the City of Glens Falls
The city of Glens Falls is tucked away in the southeast corner of Warren County. It is surrounded by the town of Queensbury to the north, east and west and by the Hudson River and Saratoga County to the south. Known as “Hometown U.S.A.,” a title given to the city by Look Magazine in 1994, Glens Falls also is referred to as the “Empire City.”
The area originally was called “Chepontu” (Iroquois for “difficult place to get around”). It also was referred to as the “Great Carrying Place.” Settlers then renamed it “The Corners.” In 1766 it was renamed again. This time it was called Wing’s Falls for Abraham Wing, leader of the group of Quakers that established the permanent settlement. Wing’s claim to the village’s name was transferred to Colonel Johannes Glen of Schenectady in 1788. This was done either as a collection of a debt, the result of a game of cards or in exchange for hosting a party for mutual friends, depending on which local legend is believed. Colonel Glenn was delighted to change the town’s name to “Glen’s Falls (sometimes spelled “Glenn’s”), which later was abbreviated to Glens Falls.
A post office was established in 1808. Glens Falls became an incorporated village in 1839 and was re-incorporated in 1874 and 1887. The city charter was granted in 1908 at which time the city became a separate entity from the town of Queensbury into which it formerly had been incorporated as its largest village.
As a halfway point between Forts Edward and William Henry, the falls was the site of several battles during the French-Indian and the Revolutionary Wars. The hamlet was mostly destroyed by fire twice during the latter conflict, forcing the Quakers to abandon the settlement until the war ended in 1783. Fire also ravaged the town in 1864, 1884 and 1902.
The city is rich in history. Glens Falls has two historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the equivalent New York State Register of Historic Places. The Fredella Avenue historic district includes a series of unique concrete block structures. The Three Squares Historic District comprises the majority of the Central Business District. Unfortunately, Glens Falls does not have a local preservation law protecting these historic resources from demolition or alteration.
Other historic sites within the city include:
The Oldest Building in Glens Falls — In 1864 a massive fire destroyed most of the buildings in the city’s central business district. The oldest building in Glens Falls, located in the downtown area, is one of the few city buildings predating that fire. The stone and brick structure at the bottom of the hill was erected circa 1815 and served as Calvin Robbin’s Blacksmith Shop.
The Feeder Canal — Across from this historic canal is a hydro-electric power plant on the Hudson River at Glens Falls. The canal was created around 1820 to feed water into the Champlain Canal. During the early 19th century the New York State Canal System served a crucial portion of the state’s economy. In Glens Falls lime, marble, lumber and agricultural products were shipped from the docks at the base of Canal Street.
Fort Amherst Road — Fort Amherst once stood near this road. Although the fort is no longer in existence, portions of the wood foundations were around as late as 1880. The fort constituted a block house marking the half-way point on the road between Fort Ann and Fort William Henry at the head of Lake George. This fort system, erected by the British, was built to secure the northern territories of the colony from French incursions during the French and Indian War. A restored fort house complex is available for viewing in the nearby town of Fort Ann.
Civil War Monument — In 1872 a limestone obelisk located in the intersection of Glen, South and Bay Streets was dedicated in honor of the 644 Queensbury men who served in the Civil War.
The Glens Falls region is a major producer of medical devices. It also is home to Finch Pruyn & Company, a key regional employer and manufacturer of specialty paper and forest products. The Glens Falls Cement Company, established in 1893, is now part of Lehigh Northeast, itself a division of Heidelberg Cement, one of the world’s largest cement producers.
The city also has an old and prevalent history in the region’s finance sector. Headquartered downtown, the Arrow Financial Corporation is a publicly traded multi-bank holding company for Glens Falls National Bank & Trust Company and Saratoga National Bank and Trust Company. Evergreen Bank, N.A., formerly the First National Bank of Glens Falls, originated in 1853. It is owned by banking conglomerate TD Banknorth. P
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