1935 school may be demolished to make way for athletic facilities

Chester. The Chester schools superintendent says repairing the former junior/senior high school would cost $4 million. The only viable option, he said, is to build a field house and multi-sport athletic field on the site for $7.9 million. Voters will decide on a bond referendum for the project on Feb. 25.

15 Jan 2020 | 05:11

It was standing-room-only at Monday night’s meeting in the Village of Chester, as residents came out to hear about the proposed demolition of the former Chester Junior Senior High School on Maple Avenue.

Superintendent Denis Petrilak said the district would like to build a field house and multi-sport athletic field on the site. His slide presentation outlined several options available for the property (see sidebar). But the district's position is that the only viable option is to demolish the building, while preserving some elements, and then build a new field house and athletic field in its place.

The historically significant Art Deco building, with its yellow brick facade, embellished parapets, linear bands of windows, decorative cast stone detail, and clock tower, was built in 1935 with the aid of federal Public Works Administration funds. The current structure includes a 1965 addition and subsequent gymnasium. The gymnasium would remain as part of the proposed sports complex and provide lockers for players.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation responded to the district’s review of options with the following statement: "Based upon our review we concur with your determination that there are no prudent and feasible alternatives to the demolition of this National Register-eligible property."

Voters will have a chance to decide the bond issue in a Feb. 25 referendum. In the meantime, there will be more informational meetings and a chance for the public to submit their comments. Residents with comments or questions may email Denis Petrilak at chesterusfd.org or call 845-469-2231 ext. 3401.

Repairs would cost $4 million

The district says a multipurpose athletic field would provide an attractive and modern facility in a highly visible and trafficked position in the center of the village. It would also complement the current athletics complex, which was renovated in 2018.

Repairs to the old school are estimated to cost at least $4 million. Petrilak said there's no need for additional instruction space. Chester Academy and Chester Elementary are at approximately 50 percent capacity, with a declining enrollment pattern in the district and the region, he said.

A 2016 building condition survey conducted by licensed independent architects reported that the total amount of necessary repairs and replacements would cost $3,279,000. Adjusted for 2020, that amount exceeds $4 million to bring the old school up to standards.

From 2004 to 2019 the building was leased to Orange-Ulster BOCES. BOCES terminated the lease in 2019. One of the reasons they cited was the building's deteriorating condition.

Questions from the public

One parent said her son loves lacrosse but has to play for Goshen because Chester doesn’t have a lacrosse field. She's happy the new field will accommodate lacrosse.

Mary Altobelli questioned the investment in sports fields.

“How many students have gone on to become professional sports players?” she asked. Petrilak said did not have a number.

“Well, I can name at least more than a dozen students who have gone on to become professionals in the arts," Altobelli said. "I think our money would be better spent in a different direction and we would get a bigger bang for our buck in terms of investment.”

Petrilak said the district has been growing its arts program over the past few years, and that students have gone on to study in the arts and continued to college because of opportunities provided to them by athletics.

Answering a question from Chester town board member Tom Becker, Petrilak said the district's $189 annual increase in school taxes was based a home with a market value of approximately $350,000.

Michele Deshler wanted to know how nearby homeowners would be protected from contaminants when the 85-year-old building is demolished. During work on the existing athletic fields near her home, the windows in her home had to stay shut because of all the dirt and dust.

Architect Mike McGovern of Lan Associates said the demolition requirements were very specific. The buildings will be taken down in sections, and walls will be sprayed with water to keep the dust down. Air monitoring will check that asbestos fibers are not being disbursed. Most asbestos removal would take place before demolition.

Deshler also expressed concern about parking. When BOCES was using the building, parking on Main Street was scarce and she sometimes was unable to use her driveway.

Nancy George asked how much it would cost to maintain the fields. McGovern said the artificial turf would have to be refreshed, and that will cost approximately $20,000 to $30,000 a year, depending on how much use it gets. Maintaining a natural grass field would be even more expensive, he said. The grandstand will be aluminum, impervious to water, and the building will be masonry with a brick veneer, which should last 80 years, before repointing is necessary, he said.

The architects propose saving and re-using some iconic parts of the building: the outside light, the bell, the cupola and clock, and, if possible, stones and banding elements from the old school building.

Informational meetings scheduled

Additional public presentations will be held at the following times and places:

Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Chester Academy PTSA at the Chester Academy, 64 Hambletonian Avenue.

Wednesday, Jan. 22, at noon at the Chester Senior Club meeting, Chester Senior & Recreational Center, 81 Laroe Road.

Thursday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Chester Elementary School PTA meeting at Chester Elementary School, 2 Herbert Drive.

Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Chester Board of Education meeting at the Chester Academy, 64 Hambletonian Avenue.

The referendum

Eligible voters may vote on the referendum for the proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Chester Academy, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Absentee ballots are available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each school day from the school district dlerk, Debra Lys, at Chester Elementary School. Lys may be reached at 469-2178 ext. 2202.

Absentee ballots must be received between Jan. 26 until 5 p.m. on Feb. 25.

In person registration will be on Wednesday, Feb. 12, from 4 to 9 p.m.

For more information, visit the district website at chesterufsd.org.

Cost breakdown

Demolition: $1.1 million

Installation of 8-10 year artificial playing surface: $2.1 million. The artificial playing surface will last about 8 to 10 years. Resurfacing at the time will cost about 1 million.

Construction of grandstand and field house: $4.7 million

Total: $7.9 million

Timeline

Feb. 25, 2020: Bond vote

June 2020: Submit plans to the New York State Department of Education for expedited review.

November 2020: NYSED issues building permit

January 2021: Construction starts

Fall 2021: Complete project

Elements of the new construction

The Maple Avenue Multi-Sport Athletic Field Facility will include:

Fieldhouse:

● 1,000-seat bleachers

● Press box

● Public address system

● Reproduction of the front façade of the old school

● Original and reproduced architectural elements (cupola, clock, etc.)

● History display cases to include plaques from the original building

● An open area greenspace

● Restrooms

● Concession stand with plumbing

● Athletic equipment storage

● Janitor storage

● Parking

The multi-sport athletic field:

● Highly durable artificial playing surface

● Can be used year-round, no required downtime

● Sports: football, soccer, lacrosse, cross training, among others

● Permanent markings (lines and school logo)

● Lighting: can be used for night practice and games up to 9 p.m.

● Chain link fencing

Parking:

On either side of the new facility there will be East and West parking lots with 21 and 43 spaces, respectively. Additional parking was estimated as follows: Carpenter Field, 67 spaces; Walnut Street, 48 spaces; Vadala, 15 spaces, Route 94, 66 spaces, for a total 260 parking spaces.

Editor's note: Leslie Smith contributed to the reporting of this article.

The five options
The five options for the Maple Avenue school are as follows:
1. Make repairs and replacements.
The $4 million estimated cost, lack of need for additional instruction space, and declining enrollment figures were the reasons this option was rejected.
2. "Mothball” the school without making repairs.
This option was rejected because of the safety hazard and potential liability for the district, in addition to becoming a highly visible blight.
3. Sell the building.
This option was considered undesirable because the district already uses the existing, renovated playing fields and gymnasium for sports essential to the district’s programs. The district must retain ownership of the land, and, if the building were leased sold to another entity, the district would have no control over the uses of the building. The existing fields might therefore be affected.
4. Lease the building.
The district does not want to be landlord of a building that would require ongoing repairs.
5. Repurpose the property for school district use.
This option is considered most viable for the district 's needs because it would alleviate its shortage of athletic facilities. It would incorporate architectural features of the old school to honor its history.