Voters who live in the Sullivan West School District will have the opportunity on March 22 to vote to approve or reject a $5 million spending plan for the construction and improvement of numerous projects, including baseball, football and soccer fields and tennis courts at the high school in Lake Huntington.
Most of the money will come from the $4.1 million the district received as part of a legal settlement reached in the fall of 2010. Because of legal battles related to construction of the school, the sports fields, and other issues that would have otherwise been addressed, such as drainage at the school and the completion of the parking lot, were put off.
Now, the school board wants to move forward with what supporters call the “completion” of the school. But, asking voters to spend that much money when the district is facing the loss of three or four staff positions next year because of a tight budget might seem irresponsible.
But Dr. Ken Hilton, the superintendent, said the $5 million is in a capital reserve fund, and therefore cannot legally be used to save the positions. He said the money in the fund can only be used for capital projects or must remain in the fund for the next eight years, because that is what voters approved in a previous referendum. Additionally, the proposed projects would require no new taxes or new borrowing.
Mary Scheutzow, president of the school board, said building the fields is a matter of “fulfilling a promise.” Speaking not for the board but for herself at a meeting with reporters in Hilton’s office on March 11, and referring to the tough economic times, she said, “I think we all have hopes that we will work our way out of this eventually and, when that happens, we want to make sure that our programs and our facilities, too, are in the best possible shape to attract people to this community.”
She said to attract new homes and possibly light industry at some point in the future, “You have to sell the community, you have to sell the school” as being able to handle a growing community.
Board member Brian Grady, who was also on hand, echoed that sentiment. “I grew up in the suburbs in New Jersey and I don’t remember seeing a school without a baseball field or a football field. I owned my house in Narrowsburg for 18 years before I moved up here full time, and part of the reason I saw it as an option was because that high school was built.”
Apart from the sports fields, other capital projects in the spending plan include remediation of the air circulation system, the construction of storm water retention ponds, repairs to the slate roof of the Jeffersonville School and the installation of solar panels at the high school.
If the public votes to approve the funds, construction of the sports fields will take place in 2012.
Hilton said if the public votes against the plan, there will be enough money to pay for the “essentials,” such as the drainage and parking lot issues at the high school and the roof repairs at Jeffersonville with funds from other accounts.