New Paltz eyes Hasbrouck Park improvements

Pickleball players on the court in New Paltz: Jennifer Beeby, Ed Cramer, Chris Dalgoutte, Dick Dykeman, George and Cami Fischer, JoAnn Murphy-Genter, Jeannette O’Connor, Susan Scher, Liz Weisz and Tom Wohlfahrt. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

In one sense, the history of Hasbrouck Park in the heart of the Village of New Paltz is a history of how to maintain, update and improve Hasbrouck Park. The challenges in overseeing the parcel may have been what prompted village trustees to sign a 99-year lease for it with state officials, just to get it off their list of projects. Since it returned to village control, a gazebo and playground have been added to the park, both of which could use some repair; the ball courts in the lower portion of the park need not only basic maintenance, but in some cases improvements to even make the suitable for the sport for which they were designed.

Mayor Tim Rogers and trustee Dennis Young are the most recent elected officials to tackle how to pay for desired improvements to Hasbrouck Park. Their approaches are complimentary, with Rogers looking to a future of intergovernmental cooperation to get state funding, while Young has turned to the past, in the form of an extensive plan first proposed in 2007 by members of the New Paltz Community Foundation.

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The basic issues facing the park right now are two: the lower basketball/pickleball courts are in bad shape, and the playground — built and paid for by community members in the 1990s — has only a few years left before it’s no longer safe and must be replaced. Paying for this work, which could carry a price tag in the hundreds of thousands, out of tax dollars is not an option being considered by current board members.

What Rogers is working on is getting state money for these improvements, using a strategy that’s been a hallmark of his administration: working closely with town officials. Last year, a grant application to add another field to the Field of Dreams was turned down, and from that Supervisor Neil Bettez saw an opportunity to get parks money for both municipalities.

As Rogers explained, rejection of a grant application to the state isn’t the end of the line: it can be resubmitted the next year, with or without changes, and if it then gets the highest score, the money will be awarded. Resubmitting shows that the need is ongoing, not a flash in the pan, he observed. What Bettez suggested is that the Field of Dreams application be rolled into one seeking money for Hasbrouck Park, framing it as an holistic approach to community-wide recreation. State officials like anything that shows cooperation across municipal lines, and showing how the award would solve a problem should put the application on solid footing.

Young was originally tasked with researching how to pay for a new playground. The original was paid for through a community-wide campaign, and built by public works employees and willing residents in a show of cooperation. To replace it with something similar would cost $150,000 plus that volunteer labor, but to make the playground accessible would run $250,000.

The lack of accessibility to disabled persons was one of the main problems to be solved in the 2007 plan brought forth by the New Paltz Community Foundation board members. Their pitch, detailed in an August 23, 2007 New Paltz Times article, would have added a crushed-stone path suitable for wheelchairs and lined by maples around the perimeter, installed a formal entrance near the main ball field and added features such as a stage and stone chess tables, all of which could be reached by people with a range of mobility levels. The plans, put together gratis by landscape architect Brian Gulbrandsen, would have also seen a stage in front of where the gazebo now stands, and stone steps leading down an overhauled retaining wall to the lower ball courts. That retaining wall remains one of the areas of concern, and this was not the first time a permanent stage at Hasbrouck was proposed. A rain garden installed to address drainage issues would help sustain an iris garden, perhaps similar to the one removed by SUNY officials when village trustees signed the community’s park over to them in the 1940s.

While foundation members were ready to help raise the estimate three-quarters of a million dollars to pay for all of that, village trustees never gave the go-ahead, and foundation members finally stopped trying. However, this past weekend the current foundation board members agreed to revisit that proposal. Young provided a statement in response to that news, which read, “We would like to publicly thank the board of New Paltz Community Foundation, Inc. for agreeing to assist our community leaders as a conduit for fundraising as we focus on our overall recreational needs. The current Hasbrouck Park revitalization designs are largely based on their incredible work from over ten years ago, so it only makes sense for them to be involved to receive donations and distribute them in accordance with recreation projects approved by the municipal boards and, in some cases, as provided for in a grant awarded to the municipality.”

The consolidated funding application for state grants is due at the end of July, and winners should be known by year’s end. Even if awarded in full, it would carry a 25% local match requirement, sources of which could well be identified by efforts of the foundation’s board members. If all the pieces fall into place, more than one park could see improvements from this collaboration. If not, there’s always next year.

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