The empty building blues

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

With talk of closing Phoenicia Elementary School and Zena Elementary School, we could be faced with two more large pieces of land with empty industrial-sized plants sitting unused, the detritus of the 20th century. You could add them to the ones that already exist — the West Hurley Elementary School, which costs Onteora taxpayers some $40,000 per year to keep it from deteriorating into a condition where it could never be saved; the Simulaids building on Dixon Avenue in Woodstock; the soon to be empty Meagher Elementary School in the Kingston School District, which will join with the Tillson Elementary school, empty now. Let’s not forget the old Ulster County Jail, rotting up there on Golden Hill in Kingston, perhaps soon to be joined by the Ulster County Health Care Facility, the old Infirmary, in need of perhaps $80 million in repairs, if whoever buys the license for the beds in Ulster County chooses to invest. Or leave it to rot like the rest.

There’s the old Sears, or Ames, in Kingston Plaza, and the old Woolworths in uptown. Midtown Kingston is dotted with numerous ancient empty factory buildings, a few of which have been converted to artist lofts — though that’s an expensive proposition, and the artists they’re designed to attract don’t have much money.

What they all have in common is that nobody wants them. Many sit on what once would have been considered primo pieces of real estate…look at West Hurley, or Zena Elementary, complete with their ball fields…once upon a time they might have been snapped up for housing, growth possibilities, industrial uses. Now they could be empty. They have, or could have, unused gymnasiums, offices, theatrical facilities, communications systems. They have been anchors for last century communities, and each costs more to remove now, in the millions, than they are worth. Good ideas that ordinary people have for them are so prohibitive in expense as to be rendered impossible.

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Could it be that we’ll look prescient for holding on to them when the Colorado River runs dry and everyone out west looks to move back here for the fresh water? Supply and demand, after all…

Or we’ll end up treating them like we’ve done with our landfills…just covering them over at some far distant moment when the walls have crumbled, and civilizations in a future too far off to contemplate will treat them like archeological projects, digs that seek to discover the reasons for the demise of what was once a people of great promise, who soiled themselves irreparably. ++

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