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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 27, 2010

Westerlo School to be Town Hall

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — The town has secured a canvas on which to paint a new town hall.

Though it was a tumultuous process, the majority of town voters gave the nod on Wednesday for Supervisor Richard Rapp to sign an agreement with the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District, purchasing the Westerlo School for $145,000 to be used as the next town hall.

According to unofficial results from Town Hall on Wednesday, 374 people — 59 percent — voted in favor of the purchase, while 262, or 41 percent, were opposed.

“With all the scuttlebutt going around, I figured it would be closer,” said Rapp Wednesday night, “not that I’m complaining.”

Since the town board voted to purchase the school on Feb. 2, residents were divided over support of the purchase. Some feared that the costs associated with renovating the building would be too much of a financial burden on taxpayers, and that more information should be made public about the town’s plans for the building.

In March, a petition with 98 signatures was presented to the town board, calling for a public vote on the purchase of the building. After a revelation of legal complications over publishing the resolution to purchase the school, it was rescinded, nullifying the petition, and the board presented a new resolution to purchase the school, and then agreed to hold the special election.

“I think the townspeople really recognized the value of the building as a proposition before the town,” said Councilman R. Gregory Zeh on Wednesday after the vote. “They recognized that we have grant funding, and they realized that, although there were going to be costs involved, they really trust the town leaders they’ve elected.”

Zeh refers to the total $225,000 in grant funding from Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McEneny for the purchase and renovation of the building, though the town is not currently in possession of that funding, as it will be obtained on a reimbursement schedule.

In a front yard at the corner of Newry Road and Route 32, a digital sign yesterday read “Please vote yes!” The town listened, and the proposition passed by an 18-percent margin.

Now, the town board will have to determine exactly how it will use the space, what renovations are needed, and how much it will cost.

“We probably want to appoint somebody to head the project for us, identify what the costs will be, and probably head the project for us all the way through reconstruction,” said Zeh on Wednesday. This will likely be discussed at the next town board meeting, he said.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said Councilman Edward Rash, “because I expected to see a lot more turnout.”

In recent years, the town had repeatedly expressed interest in purchasing the 60-year-old school from BKW because space is tight at the current town hall, which is also in need of repairs. Helderberg Christian School, which has been leasing the Westerlo School building since 2005, will be vacating on June 30, as BKW did not renew its lease.

In February of this year, the town board offered to purchase the school from BKW so it could be converted into a new town hall. Not two weeks later, the BKW School Board voted unanimously to sell the building to the town. Then, at a March 2 town board meeting in Westerlo, the petition was presented.

Earlier this month, the town received a table containing the annual expenses for heating and electricity in the building: It cost $15,276 in 2007, then $15,313 in 2008, and $13,327 in 2009. Last year’s costs were lower because HCS could not afford to make the full payment, and completed the payment in January of this year.

In late 2008, BKW had released a list of needed repairs of the school that totaled $108,500. James DeForest, vice president of the Helderberg Christian School Board, said last week that none of the repairs have been completed; to the contrary, the need for these repairs has likely been exacerbated by elapsed time, he said.

“It’s going to be a while, but we’re in there — that’s for sure,” Supervisor Rapp concluded Wednesday night. “Now, we’re going to find out what we’ve got to do.”

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