Woodstock board moves to make Zena school conversion legal

Woodstock town board — Ken Panza, Bill McKenna, supervisor Jeremy Wilber and  Cathy Magarelli. (photo by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock town board — Ken Panza, Bill McKenna, supervisor Jeremy Wilber and Cathy Magarelli. (photo by Dion Ogust)

The abandoned Zena Elementary School is one step closer to being a thriving, vibrant space for learning once again. At its March 11 meeting, the Woodstock town board unanimously gave approval to forward necessary zoning changes to planning authorities so that the Woodstock Day School and a for-profit music college (see accompanying story) can make use of the property, which sits in a residential zone. The school, which once housed about 170 students from Kindergarten through fifth grade, closed last June. It has had an assessed value of around $5.4 million, though that figure was lowered this year.

Initially the town was concerned that current zoning barred the proposed music college’s for-profit operation at the Zena school site. Further research by councilman Bill McKenna revealed town regulations bar any private or parochial school in a residential, commercial or light industrial district regardless of profit status, which may be a violation of the state Constitution.


The proposed changes remove the restrictions and instead require a special use permit. But town supervisor Jeremy Wilber assured the public that it won’t result in unabated development in the community. “I don’t want anyone here to think that what’s going to happen here, is schools are suddenly going to get built all over the place just willy-nilly,” Wilber said. “They still have to go to the Planning Board, they still have to get a special use permit, they still have to go through the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process for each one of these,” he said.

Lysbeth and Steve Kursh of Kingston bid $926,000 on the Kingston school district property to fulfill the Woodstock Day School’s need for recreation fields and to rent space to the music school.

“Because they don’t have their own facilities, they cannot participate in other school competitions,” Wilber explained, referring to the Day School. “In order to be a guest, you also have to be a host.”

The purchase would allow Woodstock Day School to use existing fields on the 23.34-acre parcel and the couple would rent the school building to Paul Green of the Paul Green Rock Academy and Michael Lang, one of the organizers of the original Woodstock music festival, to operate Woodstock Music Lab.

“Many of the people that I talked to in Zena were hopeful that large building would continue as an educational facility, so I see this, and the town board sees this as a fulfillment of that wish and that desire,” Wilber said.

The zoning change proposal is only a preliminary step in the process. The measure needs input from the Ulster County and town planning boards for final review. The town will then hold a public hearing on the amendments before final passage.

Wilber has previously noted the benefits of the Zena plan are two-fold. Since the music college is for-profit, the property returns to the tax rolls. Also, the ballfields to be used by the Day School will be open to the public.


Emergency center go ahead

There’s nothing more important than a safe, warm and dry place to stay during an extended power failure — or worse, a natural disaster that taxes local and regional resources. Such a place could also have outlets for people to charge their cellphones to communicate with family members and possibly Internet access to keep up with current events. The town board was in complete agreement Tuesday night as it unanimously gave the go-ahead for a concept to use the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center on Rock City Road for just such emergencies. Councilman Jay Wenk was absent.

There were more than 24 natural disasters over the last 10 years in the area, said former planning board chair Sasha Gillman in a presentation to the board March 11. She was accompanied by a representative from the Red Cross. “We feel there is a crying need for such a safe haven,” Gillman told the board.

She said there are 213 people within the borders of Woodstock, many of whom are seniors, who are in particular need of help during an emergency.

The Woodstock Rescue Squad has graciously opened its doors in the recent past during times of need, but as Gillman noted, “They’re not equipped to function as an emergency shelter.”

As Gillman put it, the Community Center would be a “practical and cost-effective solution” to the problem since the structure already exists and would require minimal investment.

“Not much is needed to make the Community Center compliant except your approval,” Gillman said.

The American Red Cross is working to get communities trained to staff such shelters so that they are ready soon after the need arises.

McKenna noted the only real issue may be storage at the Community Center, but pointed out that the town has options, such as the highway garage or Rescue Squad building.

Supervisor Wilber, recalling a recent power outage that mainly affected the west end of town but was not declared an emergency, noted that the need also arises short of a natural disaster and inquired if the Red Cross is at the ready. While the outage did not last an extended period of time, some expressed concern about having a temporary place to keep warm.

Gillman envisioned the shelter could also serve as a “warming center” during cold snaps when people lose electricity or a “cooling center” during a heat wave. Such places open in New York and other major cities when the need arises.

There are no concrete plans for the shelter yet, but the town is working with Michael Raphael, Red Cross disaster program manager for the Northeast Region, who has set forth minimum guidelines, such as the number of required bathrooms.


The key to the shelter’s success, proponents say, is the building of a large force of trained volunteers. To that end, the Red Cross is holding a two-and-a-half hour training session open to all at 6 p.m. Monday, April 7 at the Rescue Squad on Tinker Street in Woodstock.

The town is already planning a renovation of the Community Center and the shelter would be incorporated into those plans. Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli pointed out a fundraiser under way to help defray costs.

People can purchase a brick with their name to be placed on the building. Information is available at woodstockny.org; the Town Clerk’s office at 45 Comeau Drive or at the Community Center. The town’s Emergency Management Committee will discuss the matter at its April meeting.


Shocking revelation

Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber was shocked when he opened his personal electric bill and found it more than doubled his last one. He told the Town Board and public on Tuesday that the town’s bills have gone up the same amount.

The brutal cold this winter has resulted in a spike in electric usage. Central Hudson told Wilber that this increased demand was combined with a rise in the cost of natural gas, which is used to generate much of the area’s electricity. The higher gas costs result in even higher electric bills.

“If you haven’t read your electric bill yet, then good. You’ve been prepared,” Wilber said.

Wilber said he’ll need to see how this spike in electric costs will affect the water and sewer budgets. Rate hikes aren’t out of the question after a mid-year review, he cautioned.

Other departments, such as highway, have a bit more wiggle room, Wilber said. Maybe some potholes don’t get patched.

Councilman Ken Panza noted a representative from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) will be on hand at the Town Board’s next business meeting to explain energy efficiency programs available to the town.


Return To Sender

The town clerk’s frustration over lost tax bills uncovered a new era in the way our Post Office handles local mail and may prove problematic for the future.

Town Clerk Jackie Earley told the Town Board Tuesday that she’s fielded calls and inquires from residents who want to know what happened to their tax bills and other important town correspondence.

While not getting your tax bill is no excuse for nonpayment, Earley said people deserve to know how much their bill is so they can accommodate it in their budget.

“Not only is the mail getting delayed, it’s getting lost,” Earley said.

Drop a letter in the mailbox for a fellow Woodstocker and it should get handled locally, right? Not so anymore, Earley discovered.

Initially, Woodstock mail was sorted at the Woodstock Post Office. At some point, that mail was sent to Kingston to be sorted, then that was changed to Poughkeepsie.

Now, even if you send a letter next door, it ends up all the way up in Albany before it is sent back to Woodstock, she discovered.

Earley’s office is just now getting mail back marked “unable to forward” that had gone out in December.

In the past, something as simple as an address not showing through an envelope window was solved by a postal clerk giving it a light tap on the table. Now, they’re sending it back.

She asks that residents be patient as the town is trying to work with the Post Office on a solution.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” she said.

of a resolution at a later date.

Those interested in joining the celebration committee can contact the town offices at 45 Comeau Drive, Woodstock, Samuels said.