Offer Made to Buy James Pond

Haldane trustees unlikely to accept it

By Michael Turton

It appears unlikely that the Haldane School Board will accept a recent offer to purchase the school district’s James Pond property. The $365,000 bid was discussed in executive session at the Oct. 7 meeting of the board. The property, a wooded, 10.6-acre tract of land adjacent to the east end of the Haldane campus, was appraised at $425,000 by McGrath & Associates more than two years ago.

In an email to The Paper on Oct. 15, Haldane School Board President Joe Curto said that he could not divulge details of the executive session discussions but that the offer “was not what we’re looking for.” He also said that he believes “we’ll receive more activity on the site from potential buyers,” stressing that 10 wooded acres of land within walking distance of the village and train station “does have value.” The property is listed by Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate.

James Pond, in the woods near Haldane and Nelsonville

James Pond, in the woods near Haldane and Nelsonville

Sale of the property had been considered in the past but discussions got serious when the $2 million project to develop a new sports field at Haldane moved forward in 2012. At a meeting in June of that year, then Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti referred to the sale of James Pond as “a key item,” in funding the long-awaited field upgrade and improvements to the school auditorium.

The proposed sale drew no opposition at a public hearing three months later and the initiative was approved in a referendum in November. Sale of the property was first advertised in December 2012. In his email, Curto said that at that time, “The board … was clear [in its] intent to have the land sale help offset the field and auditorium capital project,” ensuring that the initiative would be tax neutral. “That remains the case,” he said.

For many years, Haldane teachers and students have used James Pond as a site for environmental field studies. During discussions regarding disposal of the property two years ago, trustees emphasized that any sale agreement would include provisions to ensure that such educational uses would continue. Curto’s email also confirmed that has not changed.

In 2003, local taxpayers approved development of a sports field on the James Pond property but the project died when neighbors sued the school district. In the settlement that followed, the district’s ability to develop the land was greatly restricted, including a prohibition on any development within 100 feet of the pond. Curto said that the 2012 appraisal was based on development of a one-lot parcel.

File photo by Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

5 thoughts on “Offer Made to Buy James Pond

  1. It’s unclear on what grounds the School Board decided to go into executive session on this matter, since it appears that it involves neither employee relations, pending contracts nor litigation. In addition, it’s mysterious that the identity of the bidder was not disclosed. What does the School Board have to hide? Is it any wonder people distrust government? So much for transparency…

    • Thank you for the link. It also states that discussion of such real property transactions may occur in executive session “but only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” Since the amount of the bid and the appraised value have both been reported, that situation clearly does not apply. The secrecy surrounding the identity of the bidder remains extremely mysterious and has nothing to do with the Open Meetings Law. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  2. Such a large conclusion for so little research… Thanks, Jon, for bursting the balloon.

  3. I can’t think of many I trust more than Jon Champlain, Peter Henderson and Joe Curto. (Not that I don’t trust Jen Daly or Evan Schwartz, I just don’t know them.) When I first arrived in this school district there was a revolving door of administration that some linked to the Board of Ed’s style. My children and, I believe, our community have benefited from the professional and respectful manner of the recent boards. Unlike governmental jobs that come with salaries, perks and benefits, our Board Members are volunteers and it is a constant source of wonder to me that anyone steps forward given the amount of time consumed. But thank goodness we have people like Gillian Thorpe, Jon, Joe and Peter who believe “Its better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”