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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 11, 2010

Public discussion in BKW on sale of Westerlo School?

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — A change on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board’s agenda for tonight’s meeting says that the district is prepared to accept the town of Westerlo’s offer to purchase the Westerlo School.

Last week, the Westerlo Town Board voted to offer BKW $145,000 for the Westerlo School. Early drafts of the agenda for tonight’s meeting showed that there would be a public discussion on the Westerlo School. But a draft released Wednesday, rather than explicitly listing the Westerlo School as a public discussion item, lists “presentation of information by Helderberg Christian School Board” and “accept town of Westerlo offer for purchase of the Westerlo School” as new items.

“I don’t think, since I’ve been here, that we’ve ever denied the public an opportunity to discuss something,” Interim Superintendent Kim LaBelle said Wednesday when asked about the change. “There may be board discussion; I can’t anticipate what the board’s going to do tomorrow. We decided to move that to new business because [Helderberg Christian School] representatives wanted to come and present some info to the board, so they were doing that as a new business item. Based on that, the board is considering the town’s offer for a purchase of the school, so, we thought the two are kind of hand-in-hand.”

The Enterprise received four letters this week concerning the sale of the school: Two from Helderberg Christian representatives advocating for sale of the school to HCS; one from a Republican partisan in Westerlo; and one from a resident who has been active with town youth programs, and is eager to see a new town hall that will be accessible to the community. A letter was also received last week from another Republican partisan in Westerlo, critical of the town’s hefty offer.

Built more than 60 years ago for Westerlo students, the Westerlo School had housed BKW students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade since it merged with the Berne-Knox Central School District. The district, with falling enrollment, has not used the Westerlo School since 2005.

Westerlo’s town board has repeatedly expressed interest in purchasing the Westerlo School from BKW and converting it into a new town hall, because space is tight at the current town hall. The building would also serve as a center for community activities, along with youth and senior programs, town board members have said.

The building’s current occupant, the Helderberg Christian School, offered last October to purchase the building from BKW for $85,000, shortly after the building was appraised at $80,000. The Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company has expressed interest in purchasing the building as well.

[For full coverage on the Westerlo School’s history and recent offers to purchase the building, go to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under archives for Feb. 4, 2010].

James DeForest, vice president of the Helderberg Christian School Board, said yesterday that representatives from Helderberg Christian will be attending the meeting to join the discussion, but learning of the latest draft agenda has not changed how representatives of Helderberg Christian will approach the Thursday meeting.

“I consider real estate deals to be very tenuous at best, and, it says they are accepting an offer, but, until they get to a contract, or a more formal arrangement, I’m just considering that everything is open to negotiation,” DeForest said Wednesday. “I’m not sure what their motivation is…so, I can’t comment on that. There’re other people in the community who care about what happens with the school; this concern isn’t exclusive to Helderberg Christian School. We need to convey that our focus is education and ministry. We don’t operate in the political realm, other than to defer to the powers that be.”

The school board meets tonight, Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. in the district office, just across the street from the school.

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