As local officials edge closer to welcoming members of the public back to gathering in person to do the people’s business, exclusive press access was granted for the April 7 Town Council meeting in New Paltz. There have been a few times when one or more council members have participated from within this new justice center since it was built, but for the most part other Town residents have only glimpsed it through a screen.
While it was understood from day one that the courtroom would also be used for public meetings on nights when scofflaws and speeders are not waiting to learn their fates, it’s not an understanding that seems to have been incorporated into the design. The space is well lit, stately, and no doubt more secure than the ramshackle old court on Plattekill Avenue. However, Town Board members still have to make due with a space that is wholly designed for the workings of justice: they sit at one of the tables used by attorneys during proceedings, in the shadow of a judicial bench that is designed to have one person sitting above the fray with several helpers in adjacent cubicles. Contrast that with the Shawangunk Town Hall: there, the elevated bench has room for the members of a town council or planning board, or a single town justice. The Shawangunk space looks to be intended for a variety of uses, but in New Paltz the attendees at public meetings are given the impression that this is a court of law and nothing more.
Although it may miss the mark as a utilitarian public building, the justice center gets high marks for being a green building that isn’t dependent on fossil fuels. The acoustics in this space are markedly better than they were either in the old town hall or courthouse, and bringing police and court personnel back under one roof again is seen as a significant advantage. Moreover, with those two departments now in permanent and safe spaces, the Plattekill Avenue campus is now completely empty of Town activity, meaning that discussions about retooling the entire complex for Village and Town municipal offices may begin in earnest.
Let them play
Now that the Town’s new hall of justice is fully operational, passersby have been asking questions about the playground visible where trees once grew. The answer to the most common question is yes, this playground is open to the public. It’s the only public playground north of Main Street that is open year-round, since the one at Moriello Park is denied to anyone who can’t or won’t pay for admittance during pool season.
Building a playground next to this new Town building was not a capricious idea. According to Supervisor Neil Bettez, parents who don’t get along but share custody of children will often arrange to pass the kids from one to the other in a public place, such as at a police station. Several such transfers take place every week in New Paltz, Bettez said, and that’s why the idea of installing a playground came up. The intention was to raise private funds to complete this project but, learning of the need, George and Catherine Sifre offered to fund it. In 2021, the Sifres created a charitable fund that is administered through the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley. In publicly acknowledging this gift, Bettez also noted that the Sifres do not seek accolades; that’s probably why it’s not named for them, nor was there any ribbon cut to mark its opening.