Union Free School To Be Demolished
by Thaddeus Flint
The New Lebanon School Board voted Wednesday against a plan which might have saved the Union Free School building, choosing instead to have the historic structure demolished.
The item on the agenda, “To authorize Superintendant McGraw to collaborate with the Town of New Lebanon to apply for an EPF grant for the Union Free School Building with the understanding that the School District will not incur any costs and means of stabilization,” was actually voted on twice. The first vote was unanimous against with the stipulation that a motion be made to edit the original item. The item was then amended with the inclusion of the New Lebanon Historical Society as part of the team to oversee the grant and the addition that the building would be razed should the State’s Environmental Protection Fund not agree to the grant proposal by February 1.
This second item, to wait six more months to see if the State would fund up to 75% of having the building renovated into a new town hall, a project approved by the New Lebanon Town Board, was then voted on with School Board Vice President Raymond Sowalski and Board Members David Kroboth and Christine Sotek voting against and Board President Monique Wood and Board Members Michael Bienes and Tracy Bingham voting for the project. Board Member JoAnn Gavrity was absent Wednesday; her vote could have broken the tie. Since the vote was split, the item failed to pass.
A motion was then made to continue the District’s original search for bids to level the Town’s Nationally Registered Landmark. Sowalski was the most adamant of the Board members maintaining that the building be removed at a cost to taxpayers of around $40,000 because he feared that it could fall down on the School’s new generator, which cost $20,000. He defended his position saying, “You guys don’t have a greater love for historical things than myself,” but he cited the safety of the community as his reason, feeling that the building, which has been there for 98 years, arrogantly refusing to fall down on its own, could collapse at any time and hurt a citizen. “I’m preserving the good will of the community,” he said. Sowalski, along with Kroboth, Sotek and Wood voted for the motion to have the demolition of the sad, yellow structure put out for bid, with only Bingham and Bienes against.
The building is now expected to be removed before softball season starts in April. Its site, adjacent to the High School’s sports field, will be turned into a parking lot.
The Historical Society, with many members in attendance at the meeting, currently does not have any other ideas on how to save the building. “I’m sick to my stomach,” said Christine Dreyfus, a member of the Society, “there is no plan B.”