Union alumna tackles street sign project

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By Carina Sorrentino

In the past decade significant attempts have been made to improve the conditions of Schenectady and the surrounding areas. While many may not know about the rich historical importance of the area, its preservation is relevant to residents and Union students.

Beth Petta, a Union alumna who resides in the Stockade District, has spearheaded a project with hopes of visually developing the area and piquing the interest of those who visit. Petta’s historic street sign project allows anyone to make a donation and, at various levels, receive the choice of an old street sign to keep as a souvenir or gift.

The Stockade District is the first historic district in New York State, making the desire to maintain the quality of the area an ever-pressing priority.

The City of Schenectady does not have enough money to replace all of the street signs that have become faded and worn away.

For this reason, Petta has taken the responsibility of reaching out to local residents and organizations for support. As she first began walking around Schenectady examining the street signs and their designs, Petta recounted, “People would look at me a little confused and ask what I was doing. Once I told them about the project idea, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.”

Not only have individual residents been eager to give, but the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, General Electric and Union have decided to become involved in the project as well.

General Electric has made the pledge to match the donation of any of their current or retired employees. Union, through the efforts of Judith Ainlay, has established itself as a partner and, for its contribution, will receive a choice of 10 old street signs and continued publication of its involvement.

The Schenectady Heritage Foundation has also offered to become a partner and to provide all of the posts for the signs.

As a graduate from the college, Petta was optimistic that Union would want to be involved, but she was pleasantly suprised at how receptive others in the aread were to her proposal.

The project is appealing not only to the college but to individual students and student groups, since the signs that can be kept as souvenirs can be extremely meaningful to those who attend Union. In accordance with her desire to appeal to the Union student body, Petta hopes to have the project completed by May so that even those who are graduating this year may have the opportunity to leave with a souvenir sign.

The new signs are a deep maroon, framed by a black border stating the historic district in which they are located with a black spiral supporting each name.

In order to develop this new design, Petta and her colleagues researched the street signs in Tribeca and Greenwich Village for inspiration. Working with what appealed to most people, from the sign color to the spiral on the brackets, the final product was not only more beautiful, but could tie into multiple areas of Schenectady.

Furthermore, by including the titles of the historic districts, Petta’s hope is that this will reveal that the area is cared about by its members.

She wants to provoke a curiosity to visitors about the area and allude to the fact that there are other districts.

The street signs will go from the Union Triangle down the Union Corridor, which is a total of 44 signs. In the upcoming weeks, a website will be up and running with a full list of streets and the people or organizations by which they have been adopted. Petta will be at the Schenectady Green Market on Sundays with a booth explaining the project in its entirety and at what levels people can choose to donate.

“Being involved in the community, for me, started at Union,” stated Petta. “Realizing that I could make a difference at arm’s length started in college and was very rewarding. Once I graduated I wanted to be a part of the community even further, and once you get in on one project everyone wants to pull you into others.”

While Union may have been the starting point for Petta’s interest in serving the larger community, she has gone above and beyond to include anyone who has a love for his or her home to make a positive impact.

“I’m all about beauty and making things look better. I don’t have to twist any arms because it’s a popular thing once people see the pictures and the signs,” she remarked.

Through the support of the residents of Schenectady and the members of Union, it is clear to see that every little contribution has the ability to make a difference.

Petta sees a great deal of potential for all of those at Union to realize the value of helping the area and appreciate the old signs for the nostalgia they provide.

Beth Petta can be reached at her email (bethpetta@aol.com) or by phone (518-389-8302) for more information.

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