Shared facilities? Worth looking into

The Millerton News Editorial

Once again the subject of the Millerton Elementary School (MES) building has arisen, and the question of its future has come before both the town of North East and the village of Millerton. It’s no surprise, really; the charming, two-story school building sits at the entrance to the village, just a hair south of the main intersection of Main Street and Route 22.

The building, which has not functioned as an academic outpost for the North East (Webutuck) Central School District since 2009, has thankfully not been dormant these past few years. It has been used by organizations such as the North East Community Center (NECC), which uses a portion of the building for its after-school program, its summer camp and its GED program.

Recently, however, the need to make a decision about the building prompted the Millerton Village Board and the North East Town Board to meet on Thursday, March 1, after Webutuck Superintendent James Gratto contacted both town Supervisor John Merwin and Mayor John Scutieri. Gratto informed the pair the district was contacted by a party interested in purchasing a portion of the Millerton Elementary School’s property, along the western and southern sections of the elementary school. (For more, read this week’s front page story.)

Gratto very graciously asked Merwin and Scutieri if the potential sale would prevent the town or village from moving forward with any of their future plans. At last week’s meeting the two boards jointly decided any sale of the school’s property could impede their future plans (they sent a letter stating such to Gratto); before coming to that decision, however, they first discussed what some of those plans might be.

The board members agreed they would be interested in pursuing the possibility of converting the 25,000-square-foot space (that’s excluding the basement) into dual municipal spaces, housing both the Town Hall and the Village Hall. Doing so would leave room to spare. Although tempting to try to figure out what else could be housed at the MES building — perhaps the community center or the police station, or both — the boards decided to focus on just the town and village halls for the moment.

To get started, they voted on pursuing a $9,100 energy audit, half of which will be paid for through a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant. The school district will hopefully chip in for the other half. If it doesn’t then the town will cover 60 percent, while the village will pay for the remaining 40 percent.

While village Trustee Yosh Schulman raised some valid points about wanting to get more information before voting in favor of the audit, like what could be done with the excess space at MES and details about what would be done with the vacant town and village halls, pursuing the energy audit is a wise move.

And though Schulman argues Village Hall doesn’t need more space, the mayor made a good argument otherwise. For instance, Scutieri said the village Building Department is crammed, especially on a Wednesday night when there’s a Planning Board meeting; it can get jam-packed in there. It can also get pretty crowded when there’s a full house for a Village Board meeting.

Certainly the Town Hall can use the extra space as well. Additionally, many people get confused between the town and the village services, and offering access to both under one roof is an idea worth pursuing.

There are down sides — older buildings like MES are costly to renovate, repair and maintain. They cost more to run, but that’s why the energy audit is needed, to give the town and village boards real-world numbers so they can make hard decisions based on facts. Maybe moving the two municipal buildings to the former elementary school will work — and there are many factors that make the idea attractive — but maybe, after some investigation, it will be decided that the idea just won’t work.

Until that energy audit is conducted, we’ll never know, and knowing is half the battle. So to all on the Town Board and Village Board, we know it was a tough call to spend those tax dollars, but pursuing the energy audit is key. Who knows, at the end of it all North East and Millerton might have a new, centralized home base as a result.

Editor’s note: For another worthy idea about how to make use of the Millerton Elementary School building, read Pamela Michaud’s letter in Letter To The Editor.