The Demise Of The Union Free School Building Delayed
by Thaddeus Flint
The Union Free School building of New Lebanon has had its fate postponed yet once again, this time until August 31.
Bids have already been solicited for the demolition of the structure by the School Board of New Lebanon. The bids were to have been opened and considered at the August 17 meeting of the School Board, however this was put off after New Lebanon Town Supervisor Margaret Robertson appeared before the School Board with a resolution from the Town Board that the Union Free School be considered as a possible site for the Town’s next Town Hall.
This resolution was adopted by the Town Board on August 8 after an impassioned last minute appeal by the New Lebanon Historical Society. The Historical Society detailed how the building could be saved using a grant from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund which ultimately could pay 75% of the costs of the project. The grant would be applied for by an experienced grant writer, Deborah Gordon of the Historical Society, at no expense to taxpayers.
According to Gordon, “A decade or so ago a group of local citizens got together and crafted a Comprehensive Plan to lay out a path to economic revitalization. This was adopted in 2006. It recommends that the Town take action ‘to preserve and promote New Lebanon’s historic heritage as an integral part of the Town’s culture, character, attractiveness and economic future.’ The Town of NL needs a new Town Hall and two weeks ago, the Town Board moved to request that the NLCSD work with the Town and the LVHS to apply for an EPF grant to stabilize the UFS as a first step toward turning it into a Town Hall. This action on the part of the Town Board, apparently innocuous, represents a sea change from the past. It should be reinforced. It should be reinforced for the sake of all the residents of the Town, not least its children. If NL’s history is a key to its economic future, we need to stop tearing down our historic structures. We need to capitalize on them. We need to make them work for us, even as they inform our understanding of our past. The Town believes that capitalizing on our history is the way to economic revitalization.”
The Historical Society needs two things before they can apply for the grant. First they needed the Town to agree to go along with the plan that the building could be a Town Hall. This they achieved on August 8. Now they need to the School Board to agree not to destroy the building while a grant application is put together. The application deadline is September. A decision by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund would be made before the end of the year.
So the 98 year old building’s destiny now rests in the hands of the seven member New Lebanon Board of Education, headed by its President Monique Wood. Their decision on whether or not to delay, for a few more months, turning the Town’s nationally registered historical building into a parking lot will no doubt be difficult, but a concluding verdict is finally expected this time. New Lebanon School Superintendent Karen McGraw said, “I think at this meeting we will have a resolution one way or the other.” The meeting will take place at the Walter B. Howard Elementary school at 6 pm on Wednesday, August 31.