CUFSD-Orange County News Release - 5-8-2024

  •                                                                      LogoDescription automatically generated

    May 8, 2024

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Chester Union Free School District places on May 21 ballot a transfer of
    ownership of Maple Avenue building to Orange County

    CHESTER, N.Y. (May 8, 2024) — The Chester Union Free School District has placed on the May 21 ballot a referendum regarding the Maple Avenue Building that would authorize the district to transfer ownership of the 1935 and 1965 portions of the building to Orange County at no additional cost to Chester school district taxpayers.

    The District would maintain ownership and use of the gym building and athletic fields.

    “Winston Churchill said, ‘We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us,’” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. “I look forward to working with the building trades, some of our industry partners, the Village of Chester, and the Chester School District in this unique and collaborative effort to create a future for this beautiful building that will shape and enrich our community for years to come.”

    The future of the building has been under consideration for some time, including a failed referendum in 2019, and current meetings with the district’s Parent Advisory Panel, the Maple Avenue Task Force, a community survey regarding the options available, Chester Board of Education presentations, and community forums.

    “We have worked diligently on the future of the Maple Avenue Building for many years, so we are pleased to bring this property transfer to the community for a decision on May 21,” said Superintendent Catherine O’Hara. “We value the community's voice and interest in repurposing the facility and we appreciate County Executive Neuhaus and Orange County for collaborating with the district to assume ownership and revitalize the building. This initiative holds promise in fostering positive opportunities for Chester's future.”

    The options available for district consideration were presented in a community survey last fall, including:

    • Listing it for sale - The district would lose all control of future use and ownership.
    • Demolition -  The district would incur significant costs including asbestos/hazardous material removal.
    • Mothball - The building would continue to deteriorate with increased safety concerns.

    Other uses of the building, such as the district maintaining ownership while creating a community center, were not a consideration for the district, as the building would be required to be affiliated with student or school use.  

    A gift of deed to a local municipality could achieve the goal to repurpose the building for community use, however, there had been no formal interest from local municipalities until recently when Orange County inquired about the building.

    “When Orange County officials approached the district with a new option, it became immediately clear that Chester was looking at an excellent proposal that would accomplish the shared goals of the school community and the community at large,” said O’Hara. Once the referendum is passed, County Executive Neuhaus will send a resolution to the Orange County Legislature for approval.

    Other local leaders commented on the proposed use of the Maple Avenue Building:

    Joseph Minuta, Architect and Orange County Legislator
     “Much of our world is already built. Adaptive reuse of existing constructs repurposes past investments of materials, efforts, and skilled trades. This reduces the time, resources, and materials required while at the same time reviving a community.”

    Alan Seidman, Executive Director at Construction Contractors Association of the Hudson Valley
    “We look forward to working with the County to repurpose this building into a multi-use center for the public, including an educational facility for future trades, i.e. coding and programming. The opportunity to train our youth and keep them living and working in Orange County is worth creating.”

    L. Todd Diorio, President, Hudson Valley Building and Construction Trades Council
    “It’s an exciting time for all trades, including traditional construction trades and the high-tech, digital trades. Students are realizing that college may not be the route for them, and to have exceptional training opportunities for them right here in Orange County is a huge plus. The planned repurposing of this school building is a no-brainer and a win for the entire region.”

    Glenn Ehlers, Orange County Legislator
    “I’m excited about what’s in store for this terrific building and for our community. County Executive Neuhaus and the great team that will repurpose it have a wonderful vision and I’m grateful to them for seeing the potential in this structure and what it can ultimately become.”

    To learn more about the Maple Avenue Building Referendum, please visit the district’s Budget Information Page, where you will find all of the presentations related to the proposed 2024-2025 budget, as well as the Maple Avenue Page.

    In addition to the Maple Avenue building transfer, there are two other propositions on the ballot for the May 21 vote:

    2024-25 BUDGET PROPOSITION: Authorization of the Chester Union Free School District to expend the sum of $36,503,854, which will be required for school district purposes for the July 1, 2024 – June 30, 2025 school year, and to levy the necessary tax. To learn more, visit the Budget Information Page on the district website.

    CAPITAL PROJECT PROPOSITION: Authorization of the Chester Union Free School District to implement a school district safety improvement program consisting of door and transactional area construction at Chester Elementary School, construction of transactional area at Chester Academy and district-wide security upgrades, other improvements and related expenses at a total maximum cost of $1,867,000, and to levy the necessary tax. The costs of the project and the related borrowing costs are eligible for New York State Building Aid at 67.7%. An average home in Chester would pay $16.50 per year for 15 years. To learn more, visit the Capital Project Page on the district website.

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Capital Project and Maple Avenue Flyer 5-8-2024

Flyer describing the Capital Project and Maple Avenue Building Transfer

Status update from Feb. 28, 2024 Board of Education Meeting

  • Status update from February 28, 2024 Board of Education Meeting

    Previous communication has indicated future meetings of the Maple Avenue Task Force and opportunities for community input would be provided following receipt of the insurance claim from New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR) related to the July 3, 2023 storm.

    • CUFSD received notification from NYSIR of the initial claim amount, which was substantially lower than expected. 
    • LAN Associates supported the development of a counterclaim, which was presented to NYSIR on December 21, 2023, based on items missing and/or discrepancies in pricing. 
    • An adjusted claim from NYSIR was received on February 13, 2024, which unfortunately did not approach the costs associated with the itemized list provided in December.
    • In response, CUFSD notified NYSIR on Thursday, February 22, 2024 of a request for resolution through the appraisal process, which outlines clear procedures set for disputed claims. This will be the final phase, which we expect will bring us closer to a fair and agreed-upon claim amount.
    • It has been included in previous presentations that a gift of deed to a local municipality may result in repurposing the building for community use. However, there was no formal interest from local municipalities at that time.
    • It is not the result of a lack of interest from our local Town and Village of Chester municipalities, but very much a factor of the significant costs associated with renovating the building, primarily the 1935 side, that is filled with asbestos, at an estimated cost of over $10 million just to bring the building to occupancy. Recent interest has come back with estimates well over, if not double, that amount. 
    • Orange County has formally expressed interest in the Maple Avenue building and is currently reviewing options for consideration of future plans for renovation and financing associated costs with partnerships that support opportunities for the Chester community and Orange County. CUFSD is appreciative of County Executive Steve Neuhaus for his efforts to support this potential opportunity and will provide more information on all considerations as they become available.

Do you have a comment, question or concern?

  • If you have any comments or questions about the future of the Maple Avenue Building that you would like to express to the Chester Union Free School District, please email mapleavenue@chesterufsd.org 

Community Survey Results and Presentation 11-21-23

Maple Avenue Community Survey results presented at Board of Education meeting 11-21-23

  • Results of the Maple Avenue Community Survey were presented at the Chester Union Free School District Board of Education meeting on November 21, 2023.

    The survey, conducted through ThoughtExchange, asked three questions and then allowed people to post their “thoughts,” or comments and ideas for all participants to see, much like social media platforms. The participants were then allowed to rate each other’s thoughts. In total, there were 389 participants who provided 342 thoughts and 6,036 ratings of those thoughts.

    The District and Board of Education are involving the community in multiple ways to determine the best solution for the Maple Avenue Building. Once a solution is determined, a resolution will be drafted and placed before voters for a public referendum.

    The Community Survey, Superintendent Catherine O’Hara said, was just one step in the process of providing opportunities for input from the community. There will be a Community Forum at 7 p.m. on November 29 in the Chester Academy Auditorium where Chester residents will be welcome to provide further input to the District and Board of Education.

    On the Community Survey, the first question was: “Based on the current associated costs and future implications, which option would you recommend we choose?” The District provided three options along with accompanying costs. The options do not include the gym and athletic fields, which are currently in use and would remain intact for future use. The response percentages were:

    • Building remains vacant (cost $25,000 annually) – 18%
    • Listed for sale (cost estimate $25,000-$35,000) – 30%
    • Demolition of building (cost estimate $3 million-$5 million) – 52%

    The second question and percentages of responses (multiple category responses were allowed): “What is your connection to the Chester Union Free School District?”

    • Parent of current CUFSD student – 49%
    • Staff/Faculty – 12%
    • Student – 5%
    • Community Member – 41%
    • Other – 11% (participants who chose “Other” identified themselves as either an alumni, graduate, resident, homeowner or taxpayer)

    Results of the full ThoughtExchange survey may be found by clicking on this link. The survey report is clickable for layers of information, depending on how much detail the reader would like to see.

    In addition to the response from participants on the three options for consideration, Ms. O’Hara noted the written thoughts and the ratings of those thoughts in the Community Survey are important information as well. After the two questions, participants had the opportunity to respond to a third prompt that asked, “What other considerations do you feel should be included as it relates to the Maple Avenue building?”

    Common ideas of respondents included convert the building into a community center or some other public use for the community, preserve the building or parts of the building because of its history, and concern for the future of the building and land – as well as zoning – if it were to be sold.

    Ms. O’Hara also provided some clarifications, based on responses from the survey. 

    • The District cannot repurpose the building to a community center or non-school related use. Such use would not be eligible for state aid from the New York State Education Department and not a feasible option for the District. However, a gift of deed (transferring ownership of the property) to a local municipality would achieve this goal. The District, however, has not been formally notified of any interest at this time.
    • If the District, board and the community decide to sell the building, the District is legally required to act with fiduciary responsibility to obtain the best possible price (i.e., sell to the highest bidder). 
    • She also said that if the District, the board, and the community choose to demolish the building, elements of the building’s historical design would be saved and incorporated for future use. One consideration, she said, could be a park or greenspace – A Clocktower Park – that includes restored elements of the original building. There are no formal designs for such a plan. This is just in the concept stage.

    Results of the full ThoughtExchange survey may be found by clicking on this link. 

    Visit the District website page dedicated to this process at www.chesterufsd.org/mapleavenue. If anyone has a question, please email the District at mapleavenue@chesterufsd.org. The District will not be able to answer questions individually but will provide answers in an FAQ on its website.

Community Survey 10-20 to 11-3-23

  • Your opinion matters. Take the Maple Avenue survey!

    The District needs to make a decision on the Maple Avenue building reflective of the future needs of its students and the input of the Chester community. 

    We value your input and believe community engagement is a cornerstone of successful decision-making. As we explore the future of the Maple Avenue building, your opinions and insights are critical to this process. Together, we aim to build a comprehensive understanding of the considerations at hand, approaching all options with transparency and clarity. A decision by the school board will be put before the community for a vote at a future date to be determined.

    Click here to view or download the 2023-2024 Maple Avenue Building Presentation of District Options from the 10-16-2023 Maple Avenue Task Force meeting.

    To take this survey, visit https://tejoin.com/scroll/642763434 or scan this QR code to begin.



    If you require on-site support due to limited technology access, please contact Lindsay Iannuzzi at 845-469-5052, ext 3401 or
    lindsay.iannuzzi@chesterufsd.org to schedule an appointment. Appointments are available from Monday, October 23, 2023, through Thursday, November 2, 2023. 

    SURVEY CLOSING DATE:  Friday, November 3, 11:59 pm

    Thank you in advance for your participation and input!

Task Force Meeting 10-16-23

  • Click here to view or download the 2023 Maple Avenue Building Presentation of District Options from the 10-16-2023 Maple Avenue Task Force meeting.

     

    Chester Union Free School District begins discussion of options and considerations for Maple Avenue building

    The Chester Union Free School District’s Maple Avenue Task Force met for the first time on Monday, October 16, to gather input and facilitate a discussion of options and considerations for the future of the former school building located on Maple Avenue.

    The District needs to make a decision on the Maple Avenue building reflective of the future needs of its students and the input of the Chester community. The decision will be put before the community for a vote at a future date to be determined. 

    Superintendent Catherine O’Hara laid out objectives for the task force. “The task force acts as an initial step in the decision-making process, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the community’s preferences and concerns related to the Maple Avenue building,” she said. “This group allows us to have a smaller platform with community stakeholders prior to our presentation in a larger community forum.”

    The building, previously Chester High School, was built in 1935 and 1965 but has been sitting vacant since 2019. From 2004 to 2019 it was leased to Orange-Ulster BOCES. The District will retain the gym building and the athletic fields, which are currently being used.

    The district is fully committed to a process that: Explores all available options; provides transparency, and involves the community:

    • On Oct. 5, the District held its Parent Advisory Panel meeting to discuss future options of the building and begin gathering input through a survey.
    • On Monday, the District gave a presentation to the task force and discussed current options for consideration.
    • On Oct. 20, the District will open a survey to anyone in the community to gather further input. The survey will be open through Nov. 3. 
    • On Nov. 8, there will be a presentation of Maple Avenue options for consideration at the District’s board of education meeting. 
    • On Nov. 20, the Maple Avenue Task Force will meet again to discuss results from the Community Survey.
    • On Nov. 21, there will be a presentation of the results from the Community Survey during the board of education meeting.
    • On Nov. 29, there will be a presentation of options at a Community Forum that will include questions from the community.

    The District presented the Maple Avenue Task Force with three options for the 1935 and 1965 sections of the building. It also requested other options to consider through a digital survey of the group to gather their insight. The three current options from the District are:

    • Building remains vacant (mothballed)
    • List building for sale
    • Demolish building

    The District also presented other ideas, which it determined at this time are not viable options:

    • Transfer property to a local municipality – there is no formal interest at this time. If there should be formal interest, this could become an option.
    • Leasing the building – the District would need to make a $10 million investment to make the building leasable and would incur the liability associated with renting the building. 
    • Targeted sale of the building to a specific entity – per state educational law, when selling or disposing of school district property, school boards have a fiduciary responsibility to obtain the best price possible.

    Members of the task force include representatives from the Chester Kiwanis, alumni, Chester Historical Society, Town of Chester, Village of Chester, local residents adjacent to the property, the District’s Parent Advisory Panel, and historians from the town and village.

    Visit the District website page dedicated to this process at www.chesterufsd.org/mapleavenue. If anyone has a question, please email the District at mapleavenue@chesterufsd.org. The District will not be able to answer questions individually but will provide answers in an FAQ on its website.

     

Community Engagement Calendar

Maple Avenue Building Community Engagement

Important Information

  • The Chester Union Free School District and the Chester community need to make a decision regarding the future of the Maple Avenue school building. To find the best solution, the District is fully committed to a process that:

    • Explores all available options  
    • Provides transparency, and  
    • Involves the community  

    In 2020, after the stadium referendum failed, the building was “mothballed.” Gas, water and HVAC have all been decommissioned, leaving only electricty for lighting and an active fire alarm system. Roof leaks and broken windows have been repaired. However, buildings that are mothballed cannot remain in that state indefinitely, because deterioration will continue. 



    The July 3 storm, which peeled back the roof and exposed the building to the elements, has resulted in dangerous conditions inside the building. The damage to the roof from the storm was a result of high wind causing a failure of the materials and roofing system, not maintenance or a lack of maintenance. The failure allowed large amounts of rain to enter the building. The building is not climate controlled. Mold is now growing on the walls, ceilings, floors and other structural materials. The building also contains materials, such as layers of flooring and insulation, which contain asbestos that has now become “friable,” meaning it can easily crumble or become airborne. Both pose an immediate health risk and need to be abated.

    The district’s insurer, New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal, has approved and will pay for all immediate work, such as restoration of damage, replacing floors, walls and ceilings, etc… It will also pay for the cost of damaged furniture and materials stored in the building. The district is waiting on a third-party review of the abatement estimates before proceeding with any work.

    To come to the best decision for the community and students in the district, the district will gather input from its administrative team, Parent Advisory Panel, a newly created Maple Avenue Task Force, and, most importantly, the community at large. The community will have the opportunity to provide their thoughts in both a community survey and community forums.

    The district will begin with a Parent Advisory Panel meeting where four representatives – from from PK-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 – will be chosen to join the Maple Avenue Task Force. In addition, the Board of Education will invite these groups, and possibly others, to participate in this task force:

    • Chester Kiwanis
    • Chester alumni
    • Chester Historical Society
    • Town of Chester
    • Village of Chester
    • Local businesses near Maple Avenue

    Additional representatives, such as residents near Maple Avenue, may be considered as well as those recommended by the Board of Education. This group will discuss the building’s challenges, its historical significance, its potential future uses and opportunities, and the costs of various options.

    For those not on the Parent Advisory Panel or the Maple Avenue Task Force, we are confident that your voice will be heard as well. There will be venues for the community to give their input to the district and the task force through feedback in a community survey and in-person community forums.

    Stairs in Maple Ave building.   Hallway inside Maple Ave building.

    Download a Fact Sheet Below

    For a downloadable Maple Avenue Building fact sheet, CLICK HERE