Despite a flurry of meetings among Saugerties officials, the establishment of a second egress point for the Riccardi Elementary School, located at a dead-end road north of the hamlet of Glasco, seems still only a distant possibility. There is still no consensus even on whether a second road would increase the safety of the school’s students.
On April 16, town-board members Mike MacIsaac and Paul Andreassen, town attorney John Greco, former school-board president George Heidcamp, highway superintendent Doug Myer and Bishop’s Gate property owner Jimmy Bruno sat down to brainstorm a potential agreement among the parties. There was little meeting of the minds.
The school board has said it would only accept the land with the removal of the condition that it only be used during school hours, for events and in the case of emergency. The secondary access would be gated and locked at all other times.
In the wake of the Florida shooting this February, former school board member George Heidcamp had sent a mass email entitled “Dangerous Situation Continues” to school board members, news outlets and prominent Saugertiesian political figures. He advocated a second egress point from the Riccardi Elementary School, located at a dead-end road.
After a $10,000 environmental study was conducted at the end of Heidcamp’s term in 2016 on establishing access form Bishop’s Gate, Bruno’s development uphill from the Riccardi School, no further action was taken. That angered Heidcamp. While Bishop’s Gate principal owner Jim Bruno agreed more recently to donate the 50-foot-by-200-foot parcel to the school board free of charge and highway superintendent Myer offered free labor and materials for the road, the school board formally responded to the offer via a written statement from a lawyer, according to Bruno, saying that it would be unwilling to accept the offer unless stipulations placed on the property were removed.
His steadfast support of Bruno in this matter was completely non-political, insisted Heidcamp. It was the school board that was playing politics. No other conclusion was possible, he has said.
School board declines conditions
“We have a responsibility to the people of Bishop’s Gate,” explained Bruno at the Monday meeting. “When we sold them their lots, we assured them that that this would never be a thoroughfare, and the intent of this is for the protection of the kids so I don’t see a problem with this. I got a letter back from their attorney saying they were supposed to vote on it at the next meeting. They didn’t, and I sent him a memo out asking him what was taking so long and he said to me, ‘Please be advised after review of your most recent communication … the board of education has declined your offer to donate the property in Bishop’s Gate Subdivision which lies adjacent to Riccardi School unless … all proposed restrictions on the offer are removed.’ I wrote a response and want to wait until everything is done to send it, but I’m very upset with that.”
An alternative to giving the school the property without restrictions, which Bruno is unwilling to do, is to sell the property to the town with the same stipulations in the hope that the school board may buy the land from them at a later date, perhaps under different leadership with, in Bruno’s words, “better heads on their shoulders.” Another would be to bail out: sell the land to the two homeowners whose land the potential road bisects.
The town attorney presented different concerns. “This really doesn’t increase any safety unless the school steps up and provides a connection with where the cul-de-sac ends now to where the town would own, so basically it’s just a piece of property hanging out there,” said Greco. “The school will never want it then, because if the road is dedicated to the town then the duties for maintenance are going to fall on the highway department.”
Solutions with problems
Bruno said schools superintendent Seth Turner told him that, should the second egress road be built, that children in Bishop’s Gate could no longer receive transportation services to and from school due to their changed distance from the property.
“I met with Seth Turner and Jim Mooney and they said, ‘Jim, we can’t guarantee that the kids will always have bus pickup because the laws can change because of the distance and we just can’t do that,’” said Bruno. “So, we said, ‘Okay, well we’re going to put the safety of the kids in front of bussing for the kids,’ and we agreed to that.”
At one point, according to Bruno, a school board member sent him an email asking who would be responsible for telling Bishop’s Gate residents that they would no longer have bus pick up.
“My answer is going to be number one, you people are telling me that’s the only way you’ll agree to this and we’re putting the kids’ safety above school pickup,” said Bruno. “But who’s going to tell the people at Bishop’s Gate that it’ll be the school board who wants to make it a thoroughfare so that all kinds of traffic can go through there?”
The option of installing a light gravel road only accessible by emergency vehicles was brushed over. Any connection between the two sites would need to be able to accommodate fire trucks, which apparently a gravel roadway cannot.
The deadline for petitions for the seats of the three school-board incumbents, board president Robert Thomann, vice-president Jim Mooney and trustee Mike Maclary, were due later the same day. All three were seeking reelection.
They will be unopposed. Nobody else submitted petitions.