Chester students weigh in as voters consider fate of the Maple Avenue School

Chester. Students at the Chester Academy may never have attended the Maple Avenue School, but they still harbor a deep respect for its place in their community. Some disagree with the district's plan to knock it down and replace it with athletic fields, a proposal that will go before the voters on Tuesday. Others say it's a good idea. And one student is making a film to make sure that, whatever voters decide, the old school and its alumni will be well remembered in Chester's history.

| 19 Feb 2020 | 12:25

Over the past few months, there’s been much squabble and debate as to what should be done with the old Maple Avenue School, and whether or not it should be torn down to make room for multi-sport athletic fields.

Throughout this excursion, one voice that seems to have been drowned out, or possibly never properly used, is that of the student. While one may think they have the best interest of their child (or others) at heart when it comes time for the final decision, stop before you vote on Feb. 25 and consider this: when was the last time you took the time to hear or to ask what a student attending Chester Academy truly thought of the matter at hand? Below is a collection of students who have seized the opportunity to be heard.

Pros and cons

● Derek Beck, grade 12, Drama Club and stage crew:

“In my personal opinion, the school had problems, which prevented people from being able to use it. If it got torn down and replaced with something else, I would be in favor of that...although I wouldn’t be the one paying the taxes.”

● Mykhaylo Hychka, grade 8, basketball and soccer:

“I’d like the field to be built so there’s more flexibility for sports teams, including the creation of a lacrosse team.”

● Gino Scifo, grade 9, track and field, Jazz Band, Drama Club, and Cooking Club:

“I think it's a waste of money because we already have so many things, including a field that the football and soccer players play on. We can use the old high school for other things, such as supporting those with special needs.”

● Jolie Perales, grade 8, basketball and volleyball:

“It’s an overall good idea since the school is trying to introduce more outdoor sports like lacrosse.”

Tyler Santangelo, grade 8, soccer and wrestling:

“They should build a field for games (track, soccer, and football) and stuff and seating, but they shouldn’t knock the whole building down.”

● Anonymous:

“I don’t think (the old high school) should be changed into a stadium. There will be no parking, and the houses around the field don't want to be bothered. They could use the building for many different things. For one the church is looking for a new place to have their food pantry.”

● Nico Lenis, grade 11:

“I feel that Chester Academy has enough space as it is. Chester doesn’t really sponsor much effort into their sports, treating it as a joke. Building this new place is just a waste of time and space.”

● Devin McGovern, grade 12: Football and Wrestling:

“The track team is one of the biggest teams in Chester Academy right now, and for them to not even have their own track is not okay. They have all these kids and they have nowhere to work out or meet. They should have the right to have their own training area and not have to drive over to Washingtonville. I guess there would be this new facility with more room for everything (excluding sports such as field and track), but we already have all this stuff. Why do we need more of it?”

Student creates memorial film

One student in particular has risen above and beyond, and is pouring his newfound passion for the building into a memorial project for the old school. Called “The Maple Avenue Memorial Film," it offers a documentary-style format to preserve the building's history. The film-in-the-making features footage and photographs from the building, both inside and out, as well as exclusive interviews from former faculty and alumni.

Caleb Garver is an 11th grader who attends afternoon C-Tech. His bus route passes the old school every morning. He says he began the Maple Avenue project in October, after he heard of the school's proposed demolition.

After discussing his idea with a trusted teacher, Caleb was encouraged to speak with the Chester Academy principal, John Flanagan, as well as the school district superintendent, Denis Petrilak, who in turn was able to grant him permission to go inside the building for a continuation of extensive research.

After further discussion and cooperation with the district administration, Caleb was told that if the plan for the old high school goes through, his film may be played in a subsequent “memorial hall” located in the new facility.

The number of interviews that have already taken place currently hovers around 10, a number Caleb hopes to bolster before the end of the project. He said obtaining new interviews is the toughest challenge the project currently faces.

For those he has interviewed, the experience has been an emotional one.

“I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can remember my days at the old high school," said a member of the Class of 1964.

Caleb said the district's athletic fields proposal is a “valid option," and while “it’s very sad that the building will be knocked down, the land and property and surrounding area will still go to serving the students.”

“I love Chester so much," he said. "I love the history of Chester, and I think the memorial project will help embody the rich, meaningful history that Chester holds."

Caleb is still accepting interviews from alumni and former faculty. Anybody interested in becoming involved with the project can reach him at the Maple Avenue Memorial Film’s Facebook page. He's the only one working on the project

The perspectives above are only a snapshot of what the youth may have to contribute to the decisions of our community and its advancement as a whole. So before you vote, make sure you set some time aside and talk to your child or teenager about the referendum. Who knows? They may just surprise you.

Editor's note: Jacob Mott is a student at the Chester Academy.

In brief:
Voters in the Chester Union Free School District will decide Feb. 25 if the district may borrow $7.9 million to raze the old Maple Avenue School to make room for football, soccer, and lacrosse fields, among other activities.
If approved, the project will result in a $189 annual school tax increase per taxpayer in the school district.
Plans include a concession stand and fieldhouse, 1,000 seats for spectators, and temporary artificial turf that would need to be replaced every eight to ten years.
The school district also plans to preserve and display select accessories of the old school, while simultaneously retaining certain architectural themes.