Ground broken for New Paltz Amphitheatre

Last Friday afternoon, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new amphitheatre planned for Lenape Elementary School in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Last Friday afternoon, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new amphitheatre planned for Lenape Elementary School in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

A groundbreaking ceremony was held last Friday at Lenape Elementary School, marking the spot where the New Paltz Amphitheatre will be built into the slope of an existing hillside.

The multi-tiered, semi-circular structure will have a 500-person capacity. Its obvious purpose will be to provide rehearsal and performance space for students who currently have to share areas already in use by PE classes, lunch period and band practice. But the amphitheatre will also be available for use as an outdoor classroom in good weather and it will make an attractive setting for the annual fifth grade Moving-Up ceremony. In addition, when not in use by the school district, the amphitheatre will be rented out by nonprofit groups in the community, with plenty of parking on site as a bonus.

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Schools superintendent Maria Rice welcomed the group of supporters who came to cheer on those turning the first shovels of earth at the site. Invited to be the first to break ground were some of the people who played an instrumental role in getting the project launched. Lenape teacher Liz Burdick and principal Audrey Wood, who together came up with the idea to build an amphitheatre, joined superintendent Rice, fundraising committee member Jennifer Castle, Board of Education member Michael O’Donnell (who created the project’s website) and engineer Justin Dates of Maser Consulting (who designed the amphitheatre).

Also invited to participate were several community members who represented the many New Paltz residents who have embraced the construction project. The amphitheatre is being built entirely through volunteer efforts and financed by donations and fundraising. The estimated cost of construction is $125,000, but to cover any contingencies, they’re aiming for $150,000. Much of the construction labor will be donated by Mark Masseo Landscape, Inc., reflecting a significant discount in what the cost would be otherwise. The project uses no tax dollars and is not part of the ongoing capital project in the schools.

A primary source of fundraising so far has been the sale of “tribute bricks” that will pave the walkways and aisles of the amphitheatre. Engraved with messages honoring a loved one or commemorating a child’s school years, the bricks will become a permanent part of the New Paltz landscape, reminding the present generation of those who came before them.

Also invited to be a part of the initial groundbreaking were community members who represented those honored by tribute bricks. Tommy Ingoglia was invited as a New Paltz High School alum, whose class of 1993 purchased four tribute bricks. One is for the class and three honor classmates who have since passed away, including Ingoglia’s cousin, the late Marco Paz. He was represented at the groundbreaking by his mother, Lorraine Paz, who carried a photograph of her son who had so enjoyed being a part of school plays in the New Paltz district as a child and teen.

And Rose Marie Williams, widow of beloved elementary and middle school teacher Jerry Williams, attended the groundbreaking on behalf of her late husband who was cited during the ceremony as having been “inspirational” to so many teachers in New Paltz. When Williams passed away in 2010, he was remembered as a “veritable whirlwind of energy” and for having made his classrooms a place of creativity and spontaneity. Sixteen current Lenape Elementary School teachers and staff members banded together to purchase a tribute brick honoring Williams. It reads “Frogs and eggs and fun and games, thank you Jerry Williams.” When Burdick spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony about how future generations would read the messages on the tribute bricks, she explained that Williams was the originator of Frog Day and Egg Day at Lenape, and said, “People will be thinking about that one and asking questions for years to come.”

Additional fundraising for the amphitheatre has been done through a number of activities, from a kickball tournament sponsored by NPHS students to a three-day production of “The Peanuts Sing-Along” by the New Paltz United Teachers (NPUT) union. A GoFundMe site is in place, with future events to include a big auction in March. Donated items already confirmed include Jimmy Fallon tickets and the opportunity to be an intern for the day on a CBS television show.

The latest phase of fundraising has been coined, “Amp it Up.” The next event takes place this weekend on Sunday, November 6. The soulful Irish musician Liam ó Maonlaí of the Hothouse Flowers will perform a benefit concert at 5:30 p.m. at Yard Owl Craft Brewery on Osprey Lane in Gardiner. Doors open at 5 p.m. General admission ticket holders ($40) will receive a complimentary Yard Owl craft brew. A VIP pre-show reception ($85) with Maonlaí at 4 p.m. includes the beverage along with assorted hors d’oeuvres and a seat for the show. Additional beverages will be available at the cash bar during the performance.

The fundraising is organized through the Duzine/Lenape PTA, whose president, Jenn Voorhis, volunteered to take the lead in fundraising with her group when the idea for the amphitheatre was first proposed. At the groundbreaking she told those assembled that in reflecting on the project, and knowing she’d be speaking at the ceremony, she had struggled to find adequate words to express gratitude for the enthusiasm and support the project has received from the community. Evoking the “it takes a village” adage, she cited all of the people whose participation has come together to get the project launched and on its way. “We are building the New Paltz Amphitheatre at Lenape tribute-brick-by-tribute-brick, block by block, on the support and the enthusiasm of our village.”

But, said Voorhis, she still felt like a pithy quote was in order. “Mary Poppins said, ‘Anything can happen if you let it,’ and they’re letting us, so now let’s break some ground!”

The link to purchase tickets for Sunday’s performance and to order tribute bricks online is at NewPaltzAmp.org. The cost for tribute bricks is $200. Updates on the project and future events are posted on the Facebook page “New Paltz Amphitheatre at Lenape.”

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