Hudson board starts process to close State St. school

HUDSON–As City School District Superintendent Dr. Maria L. Suttmeier and Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino left a restaurant in Hudson July 25, a woman rushed up to them, calling Dr. Suttmeier’s name. The woman introduced herself as a real estate broker and said, “There was a time in our business when people told us to find places anywhere but the Hudson City School District (HCSD). Now our clients are requesting places in it.”

Dr. Suttmeier related this incident at the Board of Education meeting later that evening.

Board member David Kisselburgh said that during his time on the board–now almost three years, “I have seen a change in this school.”

In the past school year, the HCSD climbed out of state “focus” status as an underachieving district and its previous year’s graduation rate was over 70%.

The July 25 Board meeting also included preliminaries for selling the John L. Edwards Primary School building on State Street, the district’s decision to lease currently-unneeded school space to other educational institutions, track-and-field, and the unanimous choice of the board to authorize artificial turf over natural turf for the new high school athletic field.

The Primary School, in the center of Hudson, currently serves pre-kindergarten through 2nd grades. The district plans to close the school within a few years and move students to the site of the current Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School on Harry Howard Avenue, which will then house pre-kindergarten through 5th grade. Dr. Suttmeier said that real estate professionals will attend a mid-August meeting to discuss the matter with the board.

The Head Start program leases part of the current Primary School, and a board member asked what would happen with that program when the district sells the building. “It’s up to Columbia Opportunities to find space for Head Start,” Dr. Suttmeier said.

She mentioned later that “a wing of the High School,” which “Questar leases for its nursing program,” has empty space and Questar has approved the use of that space by the school district. Questar III BOCES is a regional entity that provides vocational training and other educational and administrative services to school districts in three counties.

Four High School track participants attended the July 25 meeting and during the public comment forum their spokesman, Brendan Connor, told the board, “On behalf of the track and cross-country teams, and of my father who wasn’t able to attend tonight, we really appreciate what you have done for us.” Mr. Connor graduated from Hudson High School in 2011 and participated in track while a student. His father, Jack Connor, coaches the girls track team.

Dr. Suttmeier has prepared materials in anticipation of applying for grants to assure that the new athletic facilities contain features the Capital Project originally considered optional. These include a scoreboard, a press box and several features for track-and-field: eight lanes of track all the way around, a steeplechase, and a second triple/long jump. The first potential grantor the district will approach is is the Nike Corporation, which Dr. Suttmeier said she had been told was “impressed with the school.”

The Board officially approved artificial turf for the High School’s new athletic field. The plan had some opposition because the federal Environmental Protection Agency is currently finalizing a study of the environmental and potential health impacts of the materials used in artificial turf. The study results are not expected to be released until December, and some board members had suggested considering some other “infill” for the field in case the study finds hazards associated with artificial turf’s most common infill, crumb rubber. But other infill materials might cost more, which could require additional fundraising.

Board member Linda Hopkins, who expressed skepticism about artificial turf at previous meetings, said that it takes 25 years for the installation-plus-maintenance cost of artificial turf to even out. Her concern was mainly about health.

“It’s been there for years, and kids aren’t getting sick,” said Board Member Sumayyah Shabazz.

Ms. Hopkins said that the types of illnesses that concerned her develop over the long term, like cancer, “not like a cold. There are a lot of things that get used until someone finds out they’re bad. I just hope that if there’s a problem with the infill, we can change it.”

Nevertheless, Ms. Hopkins declared, “I’m absolutely in favor of an artificial field.” With her switch, the rejection of natural turf was unanimous, among the six Board members present. Board Vice President, Maria McLaughlin, who at previous meetings had also given attention to the downside of artificial turf, was absent.

After the vote, Dr. Suttmeier exulted, “Thank-you for making the right decision!”

Throughout the discussion the tone was low-key.

At a previous hearing Jeff Budrow, a profession engineer with Weston and Sampson, which has been involved with designing the new athletic field, stated bluntly that the benefit of artificial turf “outweighs health concerns!”

The next School Board meeting will take place Monday, August 8, at 7:00 pm, a t the Junior High School Library.

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