The New Paltz School Board is considering buying 22.4 acres and a house at 301 Route 32 South in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

On April 10, voters in the New Paltz Central School District will go to the polls to decide if $798,000 worth of land adjacent to Lenape Elementary School should be purchased.

Citizens will see two questions on the ballot during that special election.

Proposition 1 asks voters if they want to tweak the contract of the capital reserve fund established in 2005. Specifically, the question asks voters to broaden the definition of how that money can be used to include purchasing land. Currently, those bucks can only buy improvements to the buildings. Capital reserve funding always needs a yes vote from the electorate to be used — this proposition wouldn’t change that part of the deal. However, as noted, it would give the district the authority to acquire new land.

If Proposition 1 passes, any new land acquisition or capital improvement project drawing money from the reserve would prompt a vote.

Proposition 2 asks if the district should buy the 22.4 acres at 301 Route 32 South for that $798,000.

For the leaders of the school district, now seems like the best time to buy the land — especially considering that the seller has lowered the price a few times.

District officials want to buy the land because it would allow for extra parking at Lenape Elementary School.

“We always needed more parking at Lenape. Any parent can tell you, you can’t even go during the day sometimes for an activity for one classroom and find enough parking,” Superintendent Maria Rice said. Even prior to the land acquisition deal, the district was already working on ways to find more parking at Lenape.

Buying the land would also let the district expand sports fields and give a secondary entrance to the school, which is otherwise landlocked by a single driveway.

“It’s an opportunity that is presented to us now. And there are other people that are interested in it, and it is contiguous with the district,” Rice said. “It just provides us with a variety of options in the future.”

One of those options also deals with a possibility to expand the school building itself. It remains unclear how that new Lenape land would fit in with any plans for expansion, but affirmation from voters would give the district options. The New York State Education Department requires districts to conform to a certain acreage per square foot to which existing schools are grandfathered. Schools on small lots are effectively barred by that provision from expanding or retooling their structures.

“The board’s working diligently on coming up with a comprehensive facilities plan, but there are a lot of decisions that have to be made as they decide what direction to go in for that plan,” the superintendent added. “So this would just sit right into it.”

For school board members, the lot’s past as an orchard has raised some concerns. Board of Education President Patrick Rausch has said that the district would pull out of the deal if soil testing showed pollutants that were too costly to remove.

To help defray the cost of buying the land, the district would subdivide off the existing six-bedroom house on the lot. Board members have said selling the house would cover “a majority” of the initial cost. However, they’ve been quiet about the details of how much that would net, for fear it could jeopardize the sale.

A verbal gaffe on March 21 by President Rausch gives some insight into the situation. He said then that selling the house could recoup almost two-thirds of the $798,000.

Currently, that property pays $18,240 in school taxes. If voters say yes, that land would come off the tax rolls and that cost would be redistributed to all taxpayers in the district. However, some of that burden would be downplayed by a recent expansion of taxable properties.

 

Voicing your opinion

The day before the land acquisition vote, April 9, curious voters will get a chance to come to Lenape Elementary School and get their questions answered directly by Superintendent Rice.

The “Round Table Discussion” will start at 7 p.m. and focus on only one topic — the land acquisition vote.

“The upcoming Round Table Discussion on April 9 will be the last chance for a face-to-face meeting with members of the Board of Education before voters go to the polling place the very next day to cast their votes,” the superintendent said in a press release. Lenape is located at 1 Eugene L. Brown Drive, in New Paltz.

 

Voting by proxy

People who can’t show up in person to vote next week can still get an absentee ballot. Applications for absentee ballots are available at the district office at 1 Henry W. Dubois Drive, in New Paltz, or they can be mailed.

District Clerk Elena Maskell is in charge of collecting those ballots, and voters need to return them to the clerk before 5 p.m. on April 10. Ballots mailed into the district also need to be returned before that deadline, or they won’t be counted.

For more about the vote, visit the school district’s website. To get an absentee ballot, call Maskell at 256-4031.

The election itself runs from noon until 9 p.m. in New Paltz Central High School’s gym. The high school is located at 130 S. Putt Corners Road in New Paltz. ++