Kids’ garden program leaves Chatham park

CHATHAM–The Town Board has accepted a decision by the Chatham Children’s Garden to end the group’s lease at Crellin Park. The town attorney said that group had not abided by the lease and the town would have ended the agreement if the group, called Loam Garden Limited, had not acted first.

The lease payment to the town was a dollar a year for a half-acre plot in the town park. Loam Garden Limited ran into a funding crunch before this year’s summer program began but was able to raise the money it needed to operate this season.

The Children’s Garden Program is separate from the town summer camp, though campers can attend the program. Program Director Cait Denny told The Columbia Paper in May that her lease with the Town of Chatham stipulates that she run the garden program during the camp schedule. Campers who use the garden program pay for it separately from camp tuition; children not at camp can also attend the garden program, which takes place during the mornings during the six-week town camp program.

The Children’s Garden Program operates separate sessions for school-age to 8-year-olds and 9 to 12-year-olds. The program also offers week-long programs in late June and planned one in late August after town camp is over.

In a letter to The Columbia Paper last week Ms. Denny attributed the decision to end the agreement to “an increasingly strained relationship with the Town Board over our lease,” adding, “we feel this is our best option.”

Town Attorney Salvatore Ferlazzo said at the Thursday, August 16 board meeting that the group had put up a shed and had yoga classes at the site, neither of which were not permitted under the terms of the lease.

He advised the board that the Chatham Children’s Garden shed and a water line to the garden were improvements to the site and that “any improvements belong to the town.”

Ms. Denny did not address ownership of the improvements in her letter, but she did write, “Improvements to our current location have been paid for solely by the Chatham Children’s Garden. We raised $7,000 for our fence, $1,500 for our shed, and $1,200 for our water line. As per our lease, the trench for our water line was dug by the Chatham Highway Department. These improvements to Crellin Park cost the town of Chatham absolutely nothing.”

Board member John Wapner suggested the board write Ms. Denny about its position on the improvements.

Mr. Ferlazzo called the lease disagreement “a misunderstanding.”

Before the board voted to formally end the lease, Mr. Wapner said, “This does not mean the Children’s Garden program will be terminated.” He said the town Recreation Committee hopes to work on a plan for Crellin Park.

The vote in favor of ending the lease was unanimous.

In another matter the board moved ahead with a project to replace and upgrade the heating system at the town highway garage. The current oil burner is inefficient and workers say it is making them sick in winter months. The new high efficiency biomass boiler system will be powered by wood the Highway Department removes from roadways or cuts as part of its regular operations. The new project includes back-up propane heat for the Highway Department office and break room.

The total cost comes to $58,900, including a grant from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) and a $5,000 rebate on the boiler, leaving a balance of $23,900 to be paid by the town. Town Supervisor Maria Lull said the town funds would come from the town’s unreserved fund balance and would not increase the town budget.

In other business:

• Christie Ellis was appointed a member of the town Zoning Board of Appeals. She was the only applicant for the open seat

• The board met with two members of Trout Unlimited who outlined the progress made in a survey to identify and evaluate road stream crossings throughout the town. The project has identified two high priority crossings in Chatham. The study is aimed at creating an online system that will help local officials “reconnect high quality aquatic habitat and improve community flood resiliency and road infrastructure.”

The two priority crossings are the crossing at Clark/Raup roads in the southeast section of the town and the crossing Haddock Hill Road and Albany Turnpike in Old Chatham.

Tracy Brown, the Trout Unlimited Northeastern Restoration Coordinator, said that the project is working with town Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert.

• Councilman Kevin Weldon reported that over 360 people attended Park Day at Crellin Park. He called the event a “pretty big success.”

The next regular meeting of the Town Board is September 20 at Town Hall on Route 295.

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