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A community committee will be formed to recommend uses for the shuttered Narrowsburg School.
Fate of building may be determined soon
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON Sullivan West’s school board clarified its goal with the Narrowsburg campus at Wednesday’s regular board meeting.
The board voted unanimously (minus absent member Mary Scheutzow) to not sell the 70-year-old building and its associated 16 acres for at least the next six months.
In that time, a community committee will be formed to come up with acceptable uses for a building that sits in the heart of Narrowsburg.
Purchase offers will be considered and marketing of the site’s real estate value will continue, but no action will be taken by the board.
In May, the board will review the community committee’s recommendations and determine the next step.
In the meantime, board member Ken Cohen wondered if the needed environmental study of the campus would have to be paid for by the district. Indeed, board member Angela Daley said she wouldn’t vote for a study on the district’s dime arguing that it should be a buyer’s responsibility.
Board member Rose Crotty responded that the district cannot pass on an environmental problem to a new owner, and Supt. Ken Hilton indicated he’d research the matter further.
Crotty did say that at least one interested party has already talked to her about the school: SLAC, the Senior Legislative Action Commission, which may try to help bring senior housing to the campus. She referred SLAC to the county’s Partnership for Economic Development, which is actively marketing the property.
Hilton, however, was clear: no drilling will be undertaken on any part of the Narrowsburg campus, either the two acres surrounding the main building or the 14 acres of athletic fields.
Remarks made at a recent meeting were misconstrued, he said. Board member Noel van Swol, who also represents a property owners association seeking leases with drilling companies, had only remarked that the property could be leased for the value of its natural gas and oil deposits.
In that scenario, no drill pads would be constructed on site. Companies would have to obtain the gas and oil via horizontal drilling from an off-site wellpad.
Van Swol told board members on Wednesday that about a square mile of land is needed for a wellpad, taking Narrowsburg out of the running.
But board member Richard Tegnander felt any of van Swol’s comments were crossing into a conflict of interest.
“You should refrain or cut back on your comments,” he told van Swol.
“It is fiscally irresponsible on your part not to realize the potential [from gas drilling] we have in this district,” van Swol replied.
“That’s just your opinion,” Tegnander shot back.
They’ve got a Plan B
In other board business that evening, Hilton said state representatives have assured him that the “chaos in Albany” means mid-year state aid cuts to school districts are not likely.
But if SW does lose an estimated $600,000 in state aid, Hilton explained that the $300,000 Turner settlement, the about-to-close $200,000 sale of the former Narrowsburg bus garage, and several other revenue items will make up for that loss.
“I don’t think we’re going to see blood in the streets,” he remarked.
However, a time of reckoning is coming in June 2011, he added, when the federal stimulus funds will run out.
That’s why SW is participating in a plan to consolidate the business office operations of most of the county’s public school districts.
Hilton estimated that about $125,000 might be saved at SW alone if it combined its business office with seven other districts’ at BOCES in Liberty, based on a study from the Center for Governmental Research.
One or two staff members would be retained on-campus as the “local face” of the business office, but the rest would be reassigned to Liberty.
“The model we’re studying right now will not result in any involuntary layoffs,” Hilton said, explaining that strategically planned retirements would winnow the combined force down to about 16 employees in the next few years.
He did acknowledge that BOCES was not interested in locating the office in one of SW’s buildings, prompting van Swol to respond, “I don’t think they’re dealing with an honest deck on this. I would have to vote ‘no.’”
However, a vote on that idea is still some time away, and Hilton has yet to make a recommendation.
In the meantime, SW has also undertaken a review of its bus runs, and Hilton said early estimates show a potential savings of $380,000, or about 20 percent less than what the district currently spends on transportation.
The trick is to make it a single bus run, he told the board, with Assistant Supt. for Business Larry Lawrence adding that mapping it out has indicated most rides could be kept to an hour or less and those that would be over an hour would be the few already taking more than an hour.
“I think the major controversial thing will be that we’ll have kids between 5 and 16 [years old] on the same bus,” predicted Hilton.
However, “we’re a long way from making a decision,” he stated.
More information on both the bus run and the business office consolidation is expected at the next SW board meeting on December 2 at 7 p.m. at the high school in Lake Huntington.