Editorial: Emergency access for Riccardi Elementary

“The impossibility of creating a perfect inner world goes hand in hand with the impossibility of shutting himself off completely. Hence the burrow will remain unsafe in the last analysis. The awareness of this imperfection drives him mad and, as a result, he will go on building and mending corridors as long as he lives. To live is to be afraid, and to be afraid is to be worried about defending oneself.”

-From a synopsis of Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Burrow.”

 

It’s an imperfect world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take measures to improve it. Some people prefer certain kinds of improvements. Others suggest other improvements. The people who prefer some kinds of improvements criticize the people who don’t share their preferences, and vice-versa. In the public political sphere, things can get nasty.

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In friendly Saugerties, they often seem to get nasty. That’s a fact of life.

Before George Heidcamp left the Saugerties school board three years ago, he advocated for the gifting of an approximately 50-foot-by-200-foot portion of land between the Bishops Gate development and the Riccardi School to its south for use as a roadway for emergency vehicles. The fact Riccardi was accessed by a single dead-end road, he said, created security concerns. If the intersection was blocked off, emergency vehicles would not be able to enter.

At its March 8, 2016 meeting, the school board unanimously adopted a resolution to authorize an expenditure of up to $10,000 to do a title search, survey and SEQR determination of the proposed emergency access road. That June, the board minutes reflected that the work had been done, and that no further SEQR work was needed.

That was Heidcamp’s last meeting as a member of the school board.

On Thursday, February 22, Heidcamp sent out a widely distributed e-mail under the subject line, “Dangerous Situation Continues.” With the recent shooting at the Florida school, “the latest in a series of far too many,” he felt compelled to repeat and reiterate his grave concern, he wrote, with the Riccardi School being on a dead-end street.  The situation that created, he said, was “extremely dangerous, a disaster waiting to happen, and desperately needs to be addressed and resolved.”

All the components of the necessary deal were in place, Heidcamp insisted. Jim Bruno and his Bishops Gate partners were on board. The town’s highway department and village DPW were willing to cooperate in making the road. All the parties, including the affected Bishops Gate neighbors, had agreed to the service road for emergency vehicles. Three years later, why had no contract been signed?

Heidcamp submitted a freedom-of-information request for school-board attorney bills, e-mails and minutes. He appended supporting letters from former school-board vice-president Tom Ham and longtime member Flo Hyatt. Jim Bruno wrote his letter expressing his willingness to do his part by donating the land.

School board member Mike Maclary said he was unable to give the school board’s position on the matter. Only board president Bob Thomann was authorized to do that, he said. Maclary did add, however, that he found it disgraceful that the chairman of the town Conservative Party and the political candidate he supported for town supervisor in the recent election, Jim Bruno, were pushing the issue in the manner they were.

Thomann said there was nothing more important to the school board than the safety of the students. “The kids have to be safe,” he said.

As part of a review of district goals, the board was holding a special meeting this Tuesday at which Thomann was sure that the issue of school safety would be discussed. “We’re looking at everything,” he said. Some suggested measures, such as the use of armed guards, would require the input of the state education department. He was scheduled to meet with the commissioner in Albany later this week.

He said he couldn’t legally accept some the conditions requested for the emergency access road between the Riccardi School, located on the northern fringe of the Glasco hamlet, and the Bishops Gate subdivision. He particularly resented the aggressive and explosive mode of the attacks on the present school board’s stewardship. “I don’t want to work that way,” Thomann said.  “We’re looking at what we can do for the safety of the kids.”

Saugerties, which came later than most Ulster County jurisdictions to the process of community planning, has more than its share of dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs. The roads, like the people who live among them, could be better connected.

After the red tape was sorted out, a physical connection among the Glasco hamlet, the Bishops Gate development and the Riccardi School between them would not be a difficult project — particularly if it assuaged security concerns at the elementary school. It’s a silly time for the blame game. Improvement is possible. At a painful time when people would benefit from community reconciliation, things seem to me to have gotten nastier than they needed to.

If the road is worth making, I think it would need to be a town road rather than a gated passageway. There are worse things in life to contemplate than a road connection between Bishops Gate and the charming little hamlet of Glasco. Maybe I’m missing something, but it doesn’t make sense to me for Bishops Gate residents, privileged beings though they may be, to have to loop out to Route 9W, take 32 to Main, and from there to travel Delaware Avenue to Plenty Street to get their kids to Riccardi. No wonder they want to have school-district buses do the job.

“Why can’t we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?” asked violence victim Rodney King in the middle of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. “It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice .… Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.”

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