New Paltz Town Council members voted on July 26 to explore the idea of turning the New Paltz Middle School into a government center for both the town and village.
Town Supervisor Susan Zimet said she put this proposal on the meeting agenda because the town and community have been talking about the idea since her last term on the board.
“In the light of consolidation and the possibility of us having to merge and create one building, the town is starting to look at options and the middle school idea came back on the table,” she said.
Zimet said another reason for the proposal is that the current town and village halls are in terrible condition.
“[The town hall is] incredibly unhealthy and we as a town board have to take action,” she said. “It is going to cost a lot of money to put together a smart-all-needs facility but right now we’re always spending money on emergency repairs and we need a new town hall.”
The building would not only lend enough space for both the village and town offices but will provide space for a senior center, a youth center, basketball courts, a 90 Miles off-Broadway Theater and many other public uses, Zimet said.
Although she said taxpayers might see this as a costly endeavor, she believes over time, New Paltz will save money by having one government
“We want to bring the government and police back to the middle of the village where they need to be,” she said. “We’re paying $65,000 a year to have the police out of the heart of the village and we’re never going to see that money again — that’s a 10 to 12 year lease that’s close to a million dollars just to pay for the police.”
At the last Board of Education meeting on Sept. 5, School Board President Patrick Rausch invited Zimet to speak about this proposal. However, he said the board has not yet decided to make any changes to their campuses.
“If we’re going to work this, we need to be working the numbers and see if this makes sense before it goes to the public,” Rausch said. “You may work the numbers and find some advantage for the town and village and there may be none for the school — we have to go through that and figure all of that out first.”
Town Council Member Kitty Brown said she believes the move would benefit the town government but is unsure if it will materialize.
She said the first step in buying property is finding a willing seller and they are still unaware of the school board’s intentions.
“I can think of a lot of great uses for the Middle School if it’s for sale, but if the school board thinks its best use is as a school and they aren’t interested in selling, end of story,” Brown said.
Conversely, Zimet said this proposal is the beginning of many conversations and it is a long-term goal that must be decided by the village, town, school district and taxpayers together.
“I have always believed in my long political career that working together is working better and we can’t do things alone and we solve problems better working together,” Zimet said. “I think in these hard economic times we really have no choice anymore, and we need to look long and hard where we need to solve our problems.”