Though they said they remain open to other options, the New Paltz Central School District’s Board of Education voted 5-1 in favor of demolishing their former administrative building at the corner of Main Street and South Manheim Boulevard.
The district left the now-dilapidated blue house around 15 years ago, first renting space for six years on Henry W. DuBois Drive before taking up residence in 2016 at Lenape Elementary School at1 Eugene L. Brown Drive, space formerly used by Ulster BOCES.
The former administrative headquarters were abandoned for the same reason it’s proven difficult to sell ever since: It’s riddled with asbestos.
“It actually wasn’t deferred maintenance or inattentiveness on the part of the district that brought the building into the condition that it was in,” said former trustee Steve Greenfield during a meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, May 4. “It was its original toxic state that required it to be vacated.”
The building, with its familiar message board on the front lawn, has since been used primarily by a construction manager for the Palombo Group during the district’s comprehensive $52.9 million capital project, approved by voters in 2014. According to district officials, the Palombo Group shored up the interior spaces making the space usable during the renovation project, but critically not a long-term solution.
School officials recently rekindled a discussion about what to do with the vacant blue house, which is actually two residential buildings connected by a passage. According to a report by CPL, a national architectural and engineering firm engaged by the district to make recommendations for the future of the former administrative headquarters, the materials used in the buildings date them to between 70-100 years old, with the age of the connecting corridor unknown.
CPL concluded that repairing and renovating the building as-is would cost around $2,472,614, while demolition and either expanding the adjacent New Paltz Middle School parking lot or restoring the area with landscaping would range between $400,000-475,000. They also stressed that kicking the proverbial can down the road would be inadvisable.
“If the building continues to be left unoccupied and in its current state, the property will suffer further deterioration and may become a neighborhood nuisance,” read the CPL report. “Given there is no immediate use to the district and based on the costs outlined above, we would recommend demolition of the building.”
Renovating the building
Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers this week suggested that the $2.5 renovation costs in the CPL study didn’t take into account the possibility of using New York State Education Department (NYSED) building aid, which covers a significant portion of all eligible school district facilities projects.
Rogers also questioned other portions of the CPL estimate.
“The $2.5 million estimate included $285,962 for just heating and cooling heat pumps (mini splits),” Rogers said. “The largest installer of mini splits in Central Hudson’s region explained to me that the cost, including prevailing wage, is likely to be substantially less than $50,000 for the entire building.The Village of New Paltz installed numerous mini splits throughout Village Hall in 2021 and it cost taxpayers less than $40,000 using today’s pricing.”
While trustees — save for Brian Cournoyer, who voted against demolition — agreed with CPL’s assessment, others did not. During the public comment period, board president Johanna Herget read a letter from Melissa Rock, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at SUNY New Paltz, who suggested that should the district demolish the building, it should consider repurposing the land as an outdoor learning space for district students. That idea was dismissed by board member Teresa Thompson, who suggested its location at a busy intersection made that option less than ideal.
Herget also read a letter from Thomas Olsen, chair of the Design Review Board and Historic Preservation Commission of the Village of New Paltz, who said that while a 2014 study of the property deduced that it didn’t merit the distinction of an historic property, “we did reach a consensus that the building does have a significant place in the new policy’s history and would be well served by being renovated for modern users.”
“The current structure anchors a highly visible section of Main and Manheim,” read Olsen’s letter. “And if renovated, it would certainly prove attractive for any number of businesses, offices, or nonprofit uses.”
But trustees said the district has tried to sell the property for over a decade, but hadn’t gotten anywhere.
“We’ve tried to sell it,” Thompson said. “We did send out an RFP (request for proposals), we got one response back…but it was denied for, I believe, various reasons.”
But school officials said that the declining student population meant it was unlikely that they’d have a use for the building or the property in the future.
“I just don’t think it’s needed for anything right now,” said Thompson.“I would’ve loved to get rid of the south part and the connector and keep the north part and make it an art gallery, but we can do that at the high school. An LGBTQ center for the students, we can do that…We have room at the middle school. We have room in high school for that.”
Fellow trustee Heather O’Donnell agreed.
“In the 13 years I’ve been a parent in the district, the district hasn’t done anything with it,” O’Donnell said.“So clearly there’s no need for it.”
During the public comment period, Greenfield suggested an option that intrigued the board: Asking the Department of Transportation to consider using the property to create a roundabout.
“They’re a very effective, proven system of moving traffic and of increasing pedestrian and motorist safety,” said Greenfield, who noted that the idea had first been proposed nearly two decades ago during his time on the School Board. “It would end the single biggest bottleneck in all of New Paltz, including for school staff, school buses (and) parents dropping off their kids.”
School Board Vice-President Matthew Williams said that a roundabout could help eliminate the dangerous use of the New Paltz Middle School parking lot as a shortcut between Main and South Manheim.
“My daughter does a basketball clinic in the evening at the middle school, and oftentimes I sit parked in that parking lot,” Williams said. “And if I had a nickel for every car that’s cutting through that parking lot to dodge that light…They just fly through that place. It’s just such a brutal intersection.”
NPCSD Superintendent Stephen Gratto suggested that if trustees wished to look into the roundabout idea, he would reach out to Mayor Rogers and then the Department of Transportation.
“I think we have an obligation to the village to do something good with that space,” Gratto said.“I think one of the concerns…is that if the building went away, we’d have a big ugly parking lot. And I think that is not right. I think, whatever decision you make, if you decide to get rid of it, I think you need to be prepared to do something with it so that we do good things for the Village of New Paltz. If we beautify the area, we make it better than it is now, we’re not just putting up a parking lot.”
Mayor Rogers said the School Board did not openly consider a proposal from the village that the municipality would take on the insurance responsibility for the building, pursue grants and other fundraising to restore the property, and find a suitable educational or community use.
“The Board of Ed emailed confirmation they received the proposal, but did not respond to the proposal and voted last night to pursue demo for (around) $500,000…that could be used to pay for staff,” Rogers said.
The vote to demolish was approved with the stipulation that the district will follow up with the DOT to gauge their interest in a roundabout, but Rogers said that as the Ulster County Transportation Council’s long-term plan, updated every five years, does not include any discussion of traffic circles for Main Street in New Paltz, he wasn’t convinced they’d go for this option.
Rogers noted that the new traffic circle on Broadway in the City of Kingston cost around $9 million, with another $2.5 million spent to address water, sewer and stormwater issues.
“It is better for vehicles for sure but they get complaints from cyclists and pedestrians, especially re: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act),” Rogers said. “Seems like a traffic circle is unlikely and would make things tough for a walkable Main Street (the Empire State Trail) and village students walking to school.”
Rogers added that if the DOT was willing to spend a similar amount of money in the Village of New Paltz, he’d like to see it go elsewhere.
“If we had a magic wand and could encourage the NYS DOT to spend $10 million on their NYS Highway (Route 299/Main Street), I would propose prioritizing sidewalk safety and ADA compliance,” Rogers said.
No matter what happens next, the old blue building isn’t going away anytime soon. While trustees hoped that the demolition could be undertaken this summer, district officials said it would most likely have to wait until the summer of 2024.