A proposal to turn New Paltz Middle School into a government center toed closer to the starting line last week. Town Board members voted unanimously July 26 to set up joint meetings with the village, school district, Ulster County, SUNY New Paltz and other stakeholders to discuss the idea.
For Supervisor Susan Zimet, the idea of snagging 196 Main Street — the school district’s oldest standing building — and turning it into a space housing Village Hall, Town Hall and county offices, has been a huge goal since voters re-elected her to her old job.
“The truth of the matter is, the town buildings have seen their day,” Zimet explained. The supervisor painted a stark image of Town Hall, noting it’d outlived its useful life. “I think, at this particular point, this building might even be unsafe.”
Councilman Jeff Logan put it another way. “Let alone that we actually meet in a place that’s labeled ‘The Pit,’” he said. “I think that alone refers to the condition of this building. It was never designed for what it is. God bless the people who sit in some of these offices. It has outlived its purpose.”
New Paltz town officials have known for years about the structural problems hampering the aged Town Hall. Various solutions to address the problem have been proposed but haven’t taken off. For instance, in 2007 a concept to move Town Hall, the police and the court to South Putt Corners Road ultimately crumbled. However, part of that original plan did take root when the New Paltz Police Department made the move to Putt Corners two years ago.
If the middle school becomes a government center — an idea which is realistically a long way away from happening, if it happens at all — the supervisor said she’d like to see the town sell the current Town Hall building and consolidate the police station, youth center and community center into the middle school site.
Doing so would put approximately $2.5 million worth of property back onto the tax rolls. For the Town of New Paltz, moving to the middle school could generate revenue — given that extra rooms could be leased to other government agencies and third parties.
Councilwoman Kitty Brown and the supervisor don’t always agree, but the two women — and the rest of the board — found the idea of a municipal center on Main Street to be a very unifying concept.
“This is what we were talking about 15 years ago,” Brown said. “The important thing is ‘who’s in?’ So let’s find out who is in.”
Supervisor Zimet said she’s modeling her proposal after County Executive Michael Hein’s STRIVE program. STRIVE, or Shared Taxpayer Relief through Innovated Visions in Education, would turn the old elementary school next to Kingston High School into a new SUNY Ulster location. That plan would swap a number of county offices into the spot currently used by the community college.
“I’ve since met with the executive twice to see how he can now take the STRIVE program and possibly bring it down to New Paltz,” she said.
By mirroring STRIVE, town officials think they’ll be able to snag state grants and special funding to decrease or eliminate any tax hike associated with inhabiting the middle school.
For as much as the Town Board members might like the plan — and while it might greatly benefit the taxpayers — it is not without risk. Since the school district owns the land, Town Board members have no authority over it. The situation is akin to a person trying to buy a house that isn’t up for sale. No matter how detailed a potential buyer’s plan for that neighboring house is, they still need to negotiate with the seller.
In this case, the buyer — the town — hasn’t yet engaged the seller — the school board — in an official discussion. School board members would first have to vote on and agree to that plan as well.
What the Town Board did last week was vote to set up meetings that would gather the buyer, the seller and other interested parties all in the same room.