HUDSON–On February 9, Hudson City School District voters will determine whether to allow the district to borrow up to $19.9 million for upgrades to its buildings and grounds. In advance of the vote the district has held a series of “community conversations,” the most recent of which took place January 23, with people asking about of sidewalks, athletic turf, the proposed enlargement of the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School building (MCS) and the fate of the John L. Edwards Primary School (JLE).
Construction plans, called the Capital Project, include a mandated upgrade of heating, ventilation and lighting as well as optional projects, including new a high school track and other athletic facilities. There would be upgrades to the oldest MCS wing and the school would be enlarged to hold more grades so that the district could close JLE on State Street sometime between 2019 and 2021.
The February 9 ballot will also present voters with a separate question on whether to approve the sale of the old Claverack School building.
About 30 people attended the January 23 meeting at JLE, with district Superintendent Dr. Maria Suttmeier and Buildings and Grounds Superintendent George Keeler presiding. Attendees included School Board President Maria McLaughlin, school board members Michelle Camacho, Sage Carter, William Kappel, and Carrie Otty, JLE Principal Steven Spicer and members of the public.
Frank Iaccino, a graduate of Hudson High School, was concerned about having all the projects bundled together in one ballot question, making it impossible for voters to accept some and reject others. Dr. Suttmeier indicated that the board had considered splitting the funding question into different purposes but eventually decided to keep it all together.
“Will there be a sidewalk on Paddock Street [next to MCS] for walkers?” somebody asked.
“That’s a great idea,” said Mr. Keeler. But he said the city got a grant to build a sidewalk on Harry Howard Avenue in front of MCS and the Junior/Senior High “and it’s holding the work up.” Later he said he did not know why.
There was also discussion of whether the new athletic field would have artificial turf, which is more expensive than grass.
“The public wants artificial turf,” said Dr. Suttmeier. “Other districts around here have it. But some of our board members are apprehensive about it.”
In response to a question about athletic facilities at MCS, Mr. Keeler said, “They will be maintained for the community,” but he added, “We need to take down the baseball field because it’s dangerous. But the tennis courts and walking track will stay.”
A woman who lives near MCS spoke of the path from the back of the grounds at MCS through the woods to Oakdale Lake. “We take nature walks there,” she said. “As a parent of extremely young children, I think the outside is extremely important.”
“We’ve had ideas for nature and art classes by that path,” said Dr. Suttmeier. “The first priority is to fix erosion.”
Even before construction could begin, the district plans to shift 6th graders from MCS to the junior high this September and 2nd graders from JLE to MCS in September 2017.
“You will be separating 2nd grade from first grade,” said retired Principal Carol Gans.
“But now,” Ms. McLaughlin said, “2nd grade is separated from 3rd grade. And in 2nd grade students must prepare for 3rd grade, which has standardized tests.”
With the district planning to close JLE, one person wanted to know what would happen to JLE staff. Dr. Suttmeier said, “This is not a project to reduce staff,” adding that JLE’s “teachers and support system will move to MCS.”
She also said there would be two principals.
To a resident concerned about the fate of the JLE building once students leave, Dr. Suttmeier pointed out, “We sold the Claverack and Greenport Schools…. And there has been interest in this building.”
Later she said, “Over the years, we have been approached by people interested in using JLE. But I can’t mention anyone for certain.” In response to a reporter’s question, she said no one is putting pressure on her to free up JLE property.
“It is emotional to move away from a school building that has been part of your life,” Dr. Suttmeier said. “This is a bold move.”
She described MCS as “one of the most beautiful buildings in Hudson.” But someone a district resident wondered whether it could ever accommodate “very little kids,” since it was built as a high school.
Mr. Keeler said that in the enlarged MCS, kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms would include bathrooms. Second grade classes would share a bathroom in their own hall. Dr. Suttmeier said the enlarged MCS will have an additional gym, for primary grade pupils. However, they will use existing art and music facilities. At an earlier hearing, Mr. Spicer warned that bathroom fixtures near MCS’s cafeteria and other common rooms were too big for primary students.
The district has been consolidating operations and redistributing grades for decades. Schools in Greenport, Claverack, and at several sites in Hudson have been closed, and JLE was built for grades 2-6 and then used pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade).
An apartment complex is under construction at the Greenport School site. The county uses two former school buildings on State Street for offices.