Rec program eyes park site

CHATHAM—The board of the Morris Memorial and the Town of Chatham now have an exploratory committee to research potential plans for the Morris’s programming to move to Crellin Park. That would mean the Morris would move out of its current home on Park Row in the village.

Currently though, as stated on the Morris’s Facebook page, “we are not under contract to sell our current building.” The Morris runs its after school and basketball program out of the 1910 building, and they rent space to the Family Resource Centers of Columbia County to host a playgroup on the second floor. Other groups use the gym for pickleball, or did before the pandemic. The Morris Facebook page also stresses that the Morris will continue to operate as it has in the past. They plan to offer an after school program in the fall (Covid permitting), and “we will not do anything to jeopardize our current programming until any alternative plans are firmly in place.” The Morris, a non-profit, also has a soccer program at Crellin Park.

Representatives from the Morris board have now met with the Chatham Town board twice and presented to members of Chatham village community at a Village Board meeting on very early plans to move or possibly upgrade their building.

On May 20, the Morris Board presented a plan to the Town Board that included selling the Morris Memorial building on Park Rowand building a community center at Crellin Park, a town owned park since 2008. The plan also proposed having the town transfer control of the park to the Morris, with the Morris taking over the recreation programs provided by the town. The plan proposes that the town creates a recreation fee “which is passed to the Morris.”

At a June 10 special meeting, the Town Board voted to create an exploratory committee of 6 members – 3 from the town, 3 from the Morris and 2 non-voting members,1 from the Village of Chatham and 1 from the Town of Ghent. The exploratory committee would look into the feasibility of relocating the Morris Memorial facility to the Crellin Park and “partnering to provide a variety of recreation programs to the community,” according to the motion. The committee will summarize its findings to the Town Board and the Morris Board.

“It’s the only way to move forward with this,” Councilman Vance Pitkin said at the meeting, in support of the exploratory committee. Town Supervisor Donal Collins and council members Kevin Weldon and John Wapner, who wrote the motion, also voted for the committee. Councilwoman Abi Mesick was not at the meeting. Supervisor Collins said the board would be accepting applications for people wanting to fill the town’s seats on the committee.

Also at that meeting, the board and the Morris members discussed the issue of “alienation of the land” for the Morris’s plan. Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea told the board that once a town makes land park land, “it is always going to be park land” unless the state legislature adopts special legislation requested by the town. Mr. Rappleyea reviewed the process with the board at the meeting, advising the Town Board that the law requires the town to look for land to replace the park land and would have to conduct an environment review and obtain the support the local state senator and Assembly members.

On June 14, Matt Wood, a member of the Morris Planning Committee, spoke to a full house at the in-person meeting of the Village of Chatham Board. Mr. Wood said the Morris has not made a decision about whether or not to sell the building on Park Row, but he pointed out that the building would need over $1 million of repairs and changes to make the building ADA compliant.

Village Mayor John Howe said at the meeting that this discussion is between the Town of Chatham and the Morris, but he said the village does have a “stake in this.” Mayor Howe pointed out that children from the village use the Morris programs. The Morris building is in the village and residents asked about the plan for the building.

Later in the meeting Mr. Wood said, “We are not eager to get rid of the building.” But he also pointed out during his presentation that the sale of the building would help with the cost to build a new community center at the park. He also said the board does not have any bids on construction for a new building.

Mr. Wood grew up going to the Morris and the gym in the building is named after his late father. He said that the Morris is “prioritizing our program over our building” and there are limits to what they can offer in the current building.

One resident at the meeting pointed out that the project is at least a few years down the road. Mr. Wood said that the board understands “this is going to be a very, very long process.”

Mayor Howe pointed out that this is very early in the process and that there are still a lot of unknowns. “This is not the end of the process, just the beginning,” Mayor Howe said.

In the presentation to the town and the village, the Morris talked about expanding their programming from not just the youth but for “overall community health and wellness,” according to the report.

The recordings of the Town Board meetings and the Morris’s presentation are online. Board meetings can be found at www.chathamnewyork.us

The Morris presentation is on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/morrismemorial

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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