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Dan Hust | Democrat

As Assistant Superintendent for Business Lorraine Poston, left, and SW Board President Mary Scheutzow listen, Supt. Ken Hilton explains the bidding process regarding the two closed campuses.

Two SW campuses sold

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — December 7, 2010 — In a split vote late Thursday night, Sullivan West’s school board opted to sell the closed Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley campuses to New York City developer Ilwon Kang.
The $3 million price tag means the district will garner $700,000 for the Narrowsburg school (the sale of which does not include a nearby 14-acre athletic field) and $2.3 million for DV in Callicoon (with only five acres – out of 68 total – included in the sale).
However, the only check written so far to SW by Kang is a $150,000 deposit upon which the bid acceptance was predicated. That money arrived Friday, said Supt. Ken Hilton.
And since Kang has five months to examine the properties and determine if he truly wants to move forward, the campuses aren’t really sold yet.
Neither the board nor Kang may have the last say, either. Narrowsburg resident Tom Prendergast has vowed to mount a “taxpayers’ challenge,” whereby district residents could have a chance themselves to vote on accepting or rejecting the bids.
And John Hector, a Narrowsburg attorney for Callicoon Center farmer and late bidder Richard Riseling, indicated the district may be sued after not accepting Riseling’s higher offer for the Narrowsburg campus. (He did not bid on DV.)
Confusion with bid documents
At Thursday’s regular SW board meeting in Lake Huntington, the matter got off to a rocky start when board members Noel van Swol and Rose Crotty pushed for not voting that night on the bids.
They argued that Kang’s background and financial wherewithal are not fully understood yet and that the confusion surrounding when a down payment was due were enough to hold off on a vote.
“We need to rethink this and rebid this properly,” urged van Swol.
Hilton acknowledged that the district-created bid documents contradicted one another about the down payment – one saying that five percent of the purchase price was due at the time the bid was made, another saying it wasn’t due until a purchase agreement was signed after the bid was accepted.
Hilton suggested the matter be discussed later in private executive session, to which the board majority agreed.
A new ‘bidder’
Riseling then addressed the board publicly, offering a bid solely for the Narrowsburg campus in the amount of $725,000, slightly higher than Kang’s $700,000 offer.
“We intend to make this a destination site for tourists,” Riseling explained, calling it a “commercial and community center.”
However, his bid – and the accompanying $36,250 deposit – had just arrived that week, with Riseling already aware of Kang’s bid.
The acceptance of such a bid – more than two weeks after bids were due – was legally questionable, but Riseling urged the board to give it serious consideration.
“I have secured an economic advisor, a site manager, have measured every room and, as a result of more than 30 meetings and conversations with local businesspersons and potential tenants, identified several purposes for different areas of the building,” Riseling explained.
His plans include creating a community kitchen; turning the gym and rooms into venues for performances, art, and music instruction; transforming the cafeteria into a microcreamery open to tourists; instituting a year-round indoor farmers’ market; attracting BOCES and colleges to offer courses; and being a model and perhaps retail outlet for renewable energy methods.
“The Narrowsburg commercial and community center will be staffed and provisioned by local residents and will be marketed as a destination where families and groups may come for educational, recreational, musical, sport and commercial enjoyment,” he explained. “The welcome will be warm, authentic, and the standard of product and service will set new standards. [It] will induce new local and regional business ventures, as well as substantially increase revenue for existing local businesses.”
Most importantly, Riseling added, this “is a special opportunity for our neighbors to refresh their confidence and enjoy the benefits of their good stewardship of this building. It is the repository of many fond memories and the source of many formative events in the lives of hundreds of people. This property should remain in service to the people who built it.”
Riseling said he had submitted a lease proposal to the district in October, involving “a condominium sale of individual units of the building to current tenants – which could be expected to raise more funds than the current bid sale price.”
He said he was told the board preferred a sale.
So board member Ken Cohen asked Riseling why he hadn’t submitted a bid on time, considering his prior interest.
“It was simply an oversight, sir,” Riseling replied.
Kang responds
At van Swol’s invitation, Kang was given an opportunity to similarly address the board.
“I do not have an extensive plan as Mr. Riseling does, but I assure you we have very smart people on our team,” he told the board.
Once again, Kang declined to elaborate on any plans, but he reiterated his intent to involve the community.
And the board votes ...
Two-and-a-half hours into the meeting, the board retreated into executive session to privately discuss the matter with its attorney, whom Hilton said was waiting at home by the phone.
Almost an hour later, the board re-emerged to amend the two bid resolutions, saying they would only be accepted if Kang’s deposit was in district hands by the following day.
In the end, only van Swol, Crotty and new board member Brian Grady were against the sale to Kang of the Narrowsburg campus. (Board member Richard Tegnander was absent.)
Grady joined with the majority to approve the sale of the DV campus, while van Swol and Crotty continued to dissent.
Van Swol reiterated his concerns about Kang and asked both Kang and Riseling to demonstrate their personal and financial commitment to rejuvenating the now-closed schools.
“I think with both people we need to know something about the investors in this project,” he told his board colleagues.
Kang promised he would meet with the board to discuss his plans and listen to suggestions.
“Mr. Kang, the motion has passed,” replied Cohen, clearly aggravated with van Swol’s persistence. “You are not required to do anything more.… You know your rights.”
“I will be as transparent as I can,” Kang assured the board, but he added, “At this time, it would not be prudent for me to be too open about my plans.”
After the meeting, Partnership for Economic Development President Allan Scott – who’s been aiding Kang to seek out and acquire multiple properties throughout Sullivan County – said he was pleased with the approval.
“I just want to acknowledge the dedication of the SW school board in putting these properties out to bid,” he told the Democrat, “thereby creating a revenue stream and new jobs and opportunities in the community.”
Riseling’s attorney John Hector said a lawsuit against the district will likely be mounted, while Prendergast vowed to obtain the required circa-800 signatures (10 percent of the qualified voters in the district) on a petition to force a public vote.
Per state education law, that must be submitted within 30 days of this past Thursday’s vote.
“We’re going to get those 800 signatures, and we’ll get them in a hurry,” Prendergast promised.

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