Residents suggest preserving historic Maple Ave. school building for public use

Chester. Plus, veterans group Rolling Thunder to host charity concert at Sugar Loaf PAC.

| 15 Jan 2024 | 10:53

During the public comment period of the January 10 Chester Town Board meeting, Chester resident David Stevenson spoke on behalf of what he called a “group of concerned residents” regarding the fate of the Maple Avenue school building. The building, which currently sits vacant, was built in 1935 by notable architect Robert Graham, and is now slated to be sold off, or demolished, by the Chester Union Free School District, as previously reported.

Stevenson suggested that the historic building could better serve as a library, community center, senior housing, or office space. He went on to give examples of similar structures in other towns, which were repurposed, and made into vibrant community assets. Stevenson added that there are a number of methods by which the town can finance the project, including preservation grants, and the opportunity for private investment.

Supervisor Brandon Holdridge told Stevenson that he wasn’t able to make any promises, but he was willing to look into the matter further.

When a survey was issued to the public regarding the future of the Maple Ave. building this past November, the majority of respondents (52%) said the district should demolish the building for an estimated cost of $3 to $5 million. Repurposing the building was not an option in the survey, but an additional prompt that asked, “What other considerations do you feel should be included as it relates to the Maple Avenue building,” did solicit requests to have the building converted into a community center or for some other public use.

At the time the survey results were released, school district Superintendent Catherine O’Hara explained that the district cannot repurpose the building for a community center or non-school-related use, as such a conversion “would not be eligible for state aid from the New York State Education Department and not a feasible option for the district.” But a gift of deed (transferring ownership of the property) to a local municipality would achieve this goal. The district, however, stated that no such interest had been raised by the local municipalities at that time.

Sugar Loaf PAC use

Representatives from Rolling Thunder Inc. an advocacy organization that works to account for prisoners of war (POW) and missing in action (MIA) service members from all U.S. wars, spoke at the meeting regarding an upcoming event they wished to hold in town.

The organization sought permission from the board to hold a two-day charity concert at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center this fall. The Chapter 3 president of Rolling Thunder, Ken Trager, attended the meeting, and noted that the concert would generate considerable revenue for the hamlet, as members from multiple New York chapters of the organization are planning to travel to Sugar Loaf to partake in the festivities.

The two-day event, which was unanimously approved by the board, is set to take place September 13 and 14 of this year. The shows on the 13th will be available exclusively to Rolling Thunder members, while the 14th will be open to the public. A lineup for the concert has yet to be announced.

While many Rolling Thunder members ride motorcycles, and partake in motorcycle rallies meant to bring awareness to their cause, Trager explained that the organization is family-friendly, and that their main focus is the work they do regarding military veterans. It was expressed that Rolling Thunder Inc. is not a motorcycle club, but an advocacy organization.