Stephentown Residents Want More Information Before Taking Over The Elementary School
by Pat and David Flint
The consensus of about 40 Stephentown residents who turned out for a public hearing on Monday evening was that the Town should accept the offer of the Berlin School District to take over ownership of the property of the former Stephentown Elementary School for $1. [private]Most definitely wanted the Town not to pass up the opportunity of acquiring the 6½ acres of land with the playground equipment, basketball court and soccer and baseball fields. But many concerns were expressed about what to do with the school building and what it would cost to maintain it, mothball it or demolish it.
Only two persons were adamantly opposed to the Town taking over what they considered a “money pit” that the School Board wanted to get rid of. One of these, Vince Devlin, suggested, however, that those in favor of the deal should form a non-profit group to buy the building from the Town for $2.
People generally felt that a lot more information is needed. What conditions or restrictions would be attached to the deal by the School Board? Could the Town sell the building for a non-public use? The Board at this time does not have much information about costs. Building Inspector Dean Herrick estimated that just to board up the windows would require $2,000 worth of plywood. Councilman PJ Roder said that a contractor had estimated it would cost about $90,000 to demolish the building. Some thought that cost could be reduced by the salvaging of recyclable materials. Town Supervisor Larry Eckhardt estimated the Town would spend about $2,000 a month to maintain the empty building.
The Board plans to gather more information, but first they wanted to know what interest there was in the community for acquiring the property. The Town’s attorney, Craig Crist, has received from the School District’s attorney a nine page document that purports to be a tentative contract of sale. Crist has said he has not looked at this document and won’t until the Town Board requests that he analyze it. Eckhardt said that once it is clear that the new School Board is still serious with its offer, he will have Crist do a detailed review of the contract. Then he envisages some negotiating with the School District about terms. Roder suggested that when all the questions are answered, the matter should be put up as a referendum in the November election.
The Board is adamant that they do not want to be building managers or landlords. Kevin Carpenter and others felt, however, that the building could somehow figure in to a revitalization of Stephentown. A number of people advocated establishing a committee to figure out all the potential costs and options. Janet Ivory expressed her opinion that the Town had abandoned the children by letting their school be shut down and she did not want to see them abandoned again by letting this opportunity slip by.
Eckhardt said on Tuesday that he was thrilled with the input received from Town residents. He said the Board would consider that input, discuss the matter further at their next regular meeting on Monday, July 16, and decide where to go from there.[/private]