Haldane Auditorium Project Moves Ahead

Completion depends on November referendum

By Michael Turton

The $2 million project that will go to Haldane Central School District voters for approval on Nov. 13 is largely about replacing the grass field along Route 9D — the school’s main athletic field and home to the Blue Devils football team — with an artificial turf surface. Supporters point out that the upgrade would greatly increase the field’s use, especially for additional sports such as lacrosse and soccer. The proposed improvements would also mean the field could accommodate use by physical education classes throughout the school system. 

Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti, left, and Haldane School Board President Michael Junjulas address concerns regarding proposed use of artificial turf. Photo by M. Turton

Another component of the project — improvements to the auditorium — represents only 5 percent of the total project cost, yet is key to the success of the overall initiative. The district is eligible to receive aid from the New York State Department of Education in the amount of 34 percent of project costs, as long as it includes improvements inside the school as well as the work on the sports field. By including auditorium improvements, the district is in line for state funding for more than one third of the overall project costs — approximately $680,000. The other indoor work to be undertaken will be replacement of the school’s aging lockers.

Seamus Carroll heads up the group overseeing the auditorium improvements, and he appeared before the Haldane School Board at its Oct. 2 (Tuesday) meeting to update trustees on the work that has already been completed. That work has been undertaken through private fundraising in the amount of $26,000 along with $4,000 from the Haldane budget. Total cost of the auditorium improvements would be $130,000. The remaining work totaling $100,000 is contingent upon a “yes” vote in November.

Describing the auditorium project, Carroll said, “We’re trying to make it more like an auditorium and less like a gym.” Work completed in the first of seven phases has focused on converting the old projection room into a modern control room, relocating sound and lighting panels into the refurbished facility while establishing storage for sound and lighting equipment there as well.

Phases 2 through 7 would include upgrades of the audio and lighting systems, installation of a digital video projection system and upgrading the stage curtains. Acoustics would also be improved by adding acoustic panels to the walls, “so that sound doesn’t bounce back and forth like a basketball,” Carroll said. A physical education computer display will also be added and a storage facility created for the drama department. A high-resolution projection system would enable the auditorium to be used for virtual field trips, a feature that School Board President Michael Junjulas said will save the district money in busing costs.

Carroll said that the project has benefitted greatly from donated goods and services. As an example he said that wood trim on the exterior of the old projection room had to be discarded due to the presence of asbestos. Had the new trim simply been purchased, that expense alone would have been in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Instead, materials were provided at a reduced cost, with Carroll doing much of the work in his own shop. Trustees discussed the need to use donations as effectively as possible in order to make the best use of funds, rather than automatically putting all project components out to bid.

BOCES vote

On October 9, trustees will vote “yes” or “no” on a proposed BOCES Capital Improvement Project. The Yorktown Heights-based vocational/technical education facility is proposing repairs to leaking roofs; replacement of heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) units; a redesigned pool used for physical therapy; and replacement of fire alarm and PA systems. A $19-million project to compete that work was defeated earlier in the year.

Haldane School Board trustees will vote on Oct. 9 regarding a proposed BOCES capital improvement project. Photo by M. Turton

The scope of the work has since been trimmed by $2 million, however all 18 school districts in Northern Westchester and Putnam County must vote in support in order for the project to proceed. Haldane trustees voted in favor of the project the first time around, and based on trustees’ recent comments it is very likely they will do so again.

The scaled-down project would see Haldane’s share of the project cost decrease from $290,367 to $250,198 with payment spread over three years. More than 20 students from Haldane currently attend BOCES. No trustees have spoken against the project — the issue seems to be more how the district can best finance its portion. “They have tarps on their roofs,” said trustee Peter Henderson. “There’s no doubt of the need for the upgrades, even in a tough budget year for us.”

Michael Junjulas agreed. “This is not a scare tactic — their roofs are falling apart.” Junjulas said the risk is that if the project is not approved and a roof fails, the cost will be even greater because it will become an emergency repair. Junjulas and Henderson recently toured the BOCES facilities to look at the works being proposed. Further discussions will be held regarding financing Haldane’s project cost after the outcome of the vote is known.

Survey and borings approved

In conjunction with the proposed athletic field improvement project, trustees authorized a topographic survey of the property conducted by Badey and Watson Surveying and Engineering. They also accepted a proposal by NOVA Consulting of Kenilworth, N.J. to conduct test borings and geotechnical investigations required as part of the same project. NOVA’s bid came in at $9,000 while the highest bid of four received was more than $19,000.

Comments on Philipstown.info spark debate

Trustees debated whether or not to respond to comments posted by a resident on Philipstown.info regarding a Sept. 23 article, Haldane Moves Forward With Field Improvement Details.  In her comments, Barabara Hobens was critical of the proposed use of artificial turf as part of Haldane’s athletic field improvement project, citing environmental and safety concerns. When Junjulas asked trustees if they thought he should respond on behalf of the school board, trustee Evan Schwartz said, “I don’t think the board should respond at all. If you want to as an individual you can.”

Vice President Gillian Thorpe was quick to challenge Schwartz. “I totally disagree,” she said. “If we don’t say anything, it gives validity to what they are saying.” In the end it was decided that Junjulas would submit comments as president of the school board but not on behalf of the board. He said that environmental and safety concerns surrounding artificial turf are addressed on the district’s website. He also quoted at length a study of the use of artificial turf at U.S. colleges that shows significantly fewer injuries on turf than on grass fields.

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