Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
POINT OF VIEW: Martin Miller, representing Lake Huntington property owner Bill Boucher, discusses the site of the proposed high school for Sullivan West during a recent meeting at the Cochecton Town Hall.
Sullivan West Plugging Away
To Solve Major Issues
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON February 25, 2000 -- An antiquated sewer system. Non-aidable building costs. Potential toxins in the ground.
Beset by problems, accusations and rumors, the board and administration of Sullivan West are working hard to dispel the myths, respond to the criticisms and solve the dilemmas currently facing the siting and construction of the proposed 9-12 high school in Lake Huntington.
The true challenge, however, may lie in allaying residents concerns because it is these same residents who will be voting on whether or not to go through with the high school plans.
A Question of Percentages
One of the first problems noted by the public is one Superintendent Michael Johndrow says was evident all along.
I thought everyone else was aware of it, he said in an interview yesterday. Im shocked [that some residents were not], but its understandable.
Mentioned within reams of text inside the three-year-old merger study, Johndrow is referring to the aidable status of a new high school. Although 95 percent building aid was promised by the state, not everything is totally aidable.
For example, said Johndrow, a gym in the high school would be classified as two classrooms by the State Education Department, and a pool would count for only one classroom. Thus, though the construction/maintenance costs and space needs are larger than a simple classroom, the amount of aid given to, say, the pool would be exactly the same as that given to a classroom.
This means that between 70 and 90 percent of the high school would be covered by state building aid. (On the other hand, renovations to the existing school buildings are totally covered by that 95 percent aid.)
Johndrow said the matter is further compounded since state aid formulas do not account for cost-of-living increases (for example, building costs per square foot are currently around $145 a significant increase from the merger studys estimate of about $120).
Although its a board decision, Johndrow is relatively optimistic that merger incentive aid and other monies can create a plan that will result in no immediate tax increases for residents.
Still, I dont know if Im ever going to clear that up entirely, he remarked, noting the large number of phone calls hes been fielding about the high schools aidable status.
Johndrow said the board is scheduled to make its decision regarding the high school plan next Thursday at its regular meeting in Narrowsburg. Their decision will be based on an expected three options to be presented to them by architect Mark Lippi of the Hillier Group this Monday in Jeffersonville.
Considering factors such as size (110,000 square feet up to 172,000) and extras (aka, the swimming pool), the board will ultimately instruct Lippi to draw up blueprints for a building that will result in: 1. no tax increase, 2. a 50 cents to $1.50 increase per thousand of assessed value, or 3. as Johndrow put it a higher number.
The final cost? Reported figures have been anywhere from $30 million to as high as $50 million for the new high school. That will be ironed out probably by next week.
The Cost of Flushing
Also in the fire right now is the issue of the circa-1938 municipal sewer system in Lake Huntington, which will serve the school if and when it is built.
At a meeting last week in the Town of Cochecton Hall, school board and town board members met with each other and the public to discuss the impact the school would have on the town-operated system, which serves approximately 70 homes.
But for now, the planning board which is reviewing the matter must take into account not only the school, but also adjoining property, which may someday be the site of a 100-unit single-family housing development. Both parcels are owned by former Lake Huntington resident Bill Boucher, who is donating the school parcel once voters approve it in the late June referendum.
Until such time, however, that the property is out of Bouchers hands or until he subdivides it the town informed school board members that they must view both properties as one parcel and act accordingly.
And considering that improvements to the sewer system could go as high as $1.5 million if both properties are fully developed, town officials are concerned about who will pick up the tab.
The developer has to pay the expense for whatever comes with that development, said Cochecton Supervisor Sal Indelicato.
To complicate matters further, school board members, while willing to pay their share of operating and upgrading expenses, were told by their attorney that it is illegal for a public school district to pay for off-site capital improvements in such matters therefore, when factoring in such costs, the school board cannot take into consideration what Boucher will or will not do with the adjoining property he intends to develop, nor can they help pay for a complete overhaul of the system (as in a worst-case scenario presented to the board by a local engineer that evening).
Thus, after some wrangling, the town agreed to pay for a $750 study to see where the exact boundaries of the sewer district lie in regard to the properties in question which will take about two to three weeks.
School officials are already antsy about the construction timeline, since the state has indicated that some state aid could be lost if voters do not approve a plan by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
But town officials warned them that, with so many governmental agencies involved (state, county, DEC, etc.), the logistics might hinder the speed of the process.
We [the town and planning boards] are the quickest part of the procedure, commented town board member Larry Richardson. This is a slow process. You are not going to do it overnight.
In reply, Mike Lambert, representing school attorney David Shaw, said, We are operating on an extraordinarily short timeline. It may be prudent for the board to look elsewhere for land [to situate the new high school on].
Yet once again, Johndrow was optimistic.
I see this as a bump in the road, he said yesterday, a few hours prior to a meeting with the Cochecton planning board.
Besides, he said, the town would have to do something five or ten years down the road to keep the sewer system operating correctly.
And the system is being underused, he remarked. When its underused, its not efficient.
Noting that everyone at the meeting seemed supportive of the schools entrance into the Lake Huntington community, Johndrow said he believed the school would be a help to the area in several ways, including paying a large share of the [sewer district] fees.
Although his petition to annul the merger vote was denied, Fremont Center resident Tony Wayne continues to be outspoken about the merger, urging consolidation into one school building.
His main concern right now, however, is the potential for unknown toxic materials in the ground of the new high school site in Lake Huntington, which he says hes received several phone calls about.
While not dismissing Waynes concerns outright, Johndrow said that the school will have to go through a state environmental review, which will include testing soil samples.
The 68-acre property part of which Boucher is donating and part of which the school is purchasing formerly was the site of the Green Acres Hotel and New Horizons, a drug rehab center.
In the meantime, Johndrow welcomes calls about any school-related matter at his office in Jeffersonville: 482-4610.