By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON A plan to finish the athletic fields at Sullivan West’s high school in Lake Huntington doesn’t entail higher taxes or further borrowing.
But SW Supt. Ken Hilton admits he’s not sure how taxpayers will vote this Tuesday.
“It’s sort of bad timing, there’s no doubt about that,” he acknowledged of a request in the midst of a recession and with layoffs coming in next year’s school budget to expend up to $5 million on the project, for which voter approval is necessary on March 22. (Polls will be open from 12-9 p.m.)
Hilton and all other SW staff members are not allowed by law to promote a decision one way or another.
But board members like Mary Scheutzow and Brian Grady are.
“I think we’re fulfilling the promise we made at the time,” Scheutzow related, speaking of the overall design of the high school approved a decade ago. “... We certainly have a great facility there ... and I think we need to finish the external pieces.”
She feels the improvements will attract new families to the school, much like the high school attracted Grady to move here full-time earlier in the decade.
Grady currently travels an hour round-trip from Narrowsburg to Jeffersonville to watch his daughter, one of two that are SW students, play softball.
Though his daughters will graduate before the athletic fields could be completed in 2013, he considers the project to be integral to the district’s future.
“There’s a matter of school pride, which goes a long way with kids,” he pointed out.
“And I think having facilities for physical education is important,” he added, agreeing with Hilton that the unfinished fields at the high school are muddy in the spring and are not conducive to students heading outside to exercise.
As a result, Route 52 between Lake Huntington and Jeffersonville is busy with buses and student drivers on their way to practice. Finishing the fields could decrease those transportation costs by tens of thousands of dollars, though Hilton said SW officials have yet to fully calculate that.
Currently, all the varsity, junior varsity and modified teams use fields in Jeffersonville, Narrowsburg and Cochecton Center.
“Three of the four gymnasiums are in the Jeff building,” Hilton said. “... High School Principal Margie Tenbus says our school becomes sort of a ghost town at 3 p.m.”
While the high school does feature usable fields, they’re nowhere near what was originally envisioned and even this project won’t be as substantial as the initial proposal.
More than half a dozen sports fields were planned years ago, but now SW is proposing just an artificial-turf football stadium and natural-turf soccer, softball and baseball fields. (Artificial turf, while pricier than natural, is heralded for its low maintenance requirements i.e., no mowing, no restriping, no irrigation.)
The parking lot is slated to be completed under this plan, along with the resolution of drainage problems.
Restrooms would be added, plus three tennis courts, some fencing and, if enough money is left over, an outdoor basketball court.
Nevertheless, district officials seem unsure, even worried, whether the vote to use $5 million in SW’s Capital Reserve Fund will pass.
So they’ve been getting the word out that the monies can’t be applied to reducing taxes this year or for the next eight years due to a previous public vote and even if they could be, Scheutzow warned that such action would re-create the district’s past yo-yo effect with property taxes.
A “no” vote, too, would only stop the completion of the fields and restrooms. There’s enough money in district coffers to complete most of the drainage work, said Hilton.
And budget cuts including the layoffs would not be averted.
“So if the vote goes down,” he explained, “the money just stays there.”