New Paltz Board of Education trustees heard news of a new feature being considered for the outdoor amphitheater at Lenape Elementary School, and that in turn raised questions about whether the maintenance costs of this volunteer-driven project might sap money away from the taxpayer-funded wellness center.
Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina explained that as part of the second phase of the project, organizers are now looking to install “sails” that would shield students from the sun. These would have to be dismantled and stored each autumn, and reinstalled in the spring; the sails would also have a shorter useful life than wood or stone and would have to be repaired or replaced in time.
Volunteers have identified a vendor for these sails, and confirmed that the process of putting them up or taking them down would require about five adults with ladders. The superintendent said that one of the open questions is where they could be stored during the off-season; there are also the issues of maintaining them and making repairs if they’re vandalized.
“Are we becoming involved? Will it cost us money?” asked trustee Teresa Thompson, whose recollection from when the idea was first proposed was that it would not hit the school budget in any way. Urbina-Medina confirmed that the continuing maintenance would fall to district employees; the estimated annual cost is two to three thousand dollars. Michael O’Donnell had a different recollection than Thompson, that maintenance was always going to be paid from the budget. However, O’Donnell did agree that the sails — and those maintenance costs — were not in the original scope.
If the sails were destroyed, they could be replaced through an insurance claim, but if they just wore out, then more money would have to be raised by volunteers if there was a desire to replace them.
Thompson, an unabashed supporter of school athletics long before joining the school board, has been a tireless cheerleader for the wellness center project in the high school. The fear that Thompson expressed was that money used to maintain the amphitheater might be money not used to finish that other project. That’s a non-starter for that trustee, who believes the wellness center should be finished before anything is spent on the amphitheater. Thompson dismissed the maintenance cost estimate, which was prepared by facilities director Guy Gardner, as “shooting from the hip.”
Bianca Tanis is of a different mind, noting that outdoor educational spaces are what’s being asked for during this pandemic. “I’m not comfortable criticizing a longtime effort to provide something for the district.”
District resident Christina Vasquez, in a public comment submitted during the meeting, questioned spending money on the amphitheater over students, but did not specify if this was a preference for the wellness center, efforts to bring children back into classrooms, or another priority entirely.
“They should have raised more money to fund those costs,” said Thompson. “I don’t feel right about it.”