Benante says focus on ‘needs instead of wants’

Asafer campus. More functional, non-smelly high school classrooms. A place for high schoolers to eat lunch. Upgraded HVAC for the main building. And more teacher bathrooms.

Those are among the critical campus needs to be addressed by the $35.7 million first phase of the recently adopted Haldane Campus Master Plan, according to district leaders.

The three-phase plan, as currently proposed, would cost $108 million and take 15 years to complete. To pay for it, Haldane recently announced it would need to raise taxes by 10.5 percent, a move that would have to be approved by district voters.

The plan includes a long list of high-profile projects, including a new auditorium, an additional gymnasium, additional tennis courts and a new open air “out-i-torium” on the school’s central lawn.

But Phase 1, as it’s currently configured, is loaded with more functional upgrades — “needs instead of wants,” said Philip Benante, the district superintendent.

“It’s really about addressing the most critical needs on campus having to do with space and safety and creating appropriate classrooms for kids and teachers,” added Peggy Clements, president of Haldane’s school board.

Earlier this month (Nov. 13), the district held a community forum to hear public input as it works to “finalize the exact components” in Phase 1 to be presented for a vote, which would likely be next fall, Benante said.

The initial phase has 45 separate projects, including new classrooms, improved access for people with disabilities and upgraded clocks and fire alarms. Here are some of Phase 1’s major projects:   

New high school wing($16.4 million)
The costliest item would be a 17,300-square-foot addition to the east end of the high school. The addition will have four classrooms to “ensure that our kids and staff have a quality educational experience,” Benante said.

Currently, many high school students are taking classes in the Mabel Merritt Building, which was originally designed for offices. The building’s four makeshift classrooms are either oddly configured or too small, Benante said, adding that the building also has security challenges.

One classroom has a support pillar in the center blocking views. Students also complain about the building’s smell, said Benante.

The new wing will also provide a Student Center where high schoolers can eat lunch. While there is a lunchroom in the main building, it’s too small and requires an outdoor, cross-campus walk. As a result, high school students typically sprawl around the hallways, classrooms or outside at lunchtime.

The addition will also include office space and a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) lab.

Main building ($7.1 million)
The plan calls for replacing the HVAC equipment and adding air conditioning. But several community members at the district’s forum on Nov. 13, as well as the school board’s meeting the following day, questioned whether the project included clean-energy options. Benante said the district and its architect are reviewing this part of the project.

Safer traffic flows ($2.2 million)
The plan aims to improve pedestrian safety, said Benante. “We have an unhealthy mix of car, bus and pedestrian traffic in the current design,” he said. “The updated design will better separate vehicular traffic from pedestrian traffic on campus. It also includes additional sidewalks and more clearly designated crosswalks to improve staff, student and visitor safety.”

Secure entry vestibules ($454,000)
In light of concerns about campus violence, it’s too easy for strangers and guests to enter the school buildings, Benante said, noting that “if someone holds open a door, it’s easy to get in.” Phase 1 addresses that with secure entry vestibules for both major buildings.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Joey Asher is a freelance writer and former reporter for The Journal News.

Join the Conversation


  1. Are they kidding? They just built the high school a few years ago. Was it so poorly planned that they did not include the space needed? The classrooms smell? What does that even mean? Wait, they have to spend $2.2 million to make sure no more students or teachers die from horrific accidents on school property? How many people have been injured due to poor planning at this school? The HVAC isn’t adequate! Who planned this disaster? Are they even considering solar panels or heat pumps to save money? Taxes are already too high for most residents in Philipstown. This is the final reason I need to move out of this area and find a place where taxes are reasonable.

  2. It is troubling that the campus plan, which includes replacing the heating system in the main building, does not call for transitioning to a modern, clean heating/cooling system like the heat pumps successfully installed at Garrison School and the Putnam Valley schools. I commend district leaders for responding to community concerns and agreeing to carefully consider clean-energy options before moving forward. Since heating systems often last decades, the system they choose will impact both the school and the Philipstown community well into the future.

    Electric heat pumps provide both heating and cooling and are much more energy efficient and cost effective than oil or gas heating systems. Though the upfront cost of heat pumps may be higher, state and federal incentives can lower the price, and since they require significantly less energy to run, heat pumps result in meaningful savings over the lifetime of the equipment.

    Heat pumps are also the healthiest option. They support advanced ventilation and filtration systems better than fossil-fuel heating systems do and would improve the air quality throughout the building. Because they are combustion free, heat pumps do not emit the many pollutants that result from burning fossil fuels. They are safer and healthier for the school and much better for the environment.

    Philipstown is a certified Climate Smart Community, committed to doing everything we can to reduce harmful emissions, and as a public institution Haldane has an obligation help us reduce our shared carbon footprint. Beyond this, by embracing excellent, proven, clean technologies, the school can teach students firsthand about effective solutions to climate change. A school, of all places, should be a leader in the fight for a livable future.

    Upton is the Philipstown Climate Smart coordinator.

  3. As a former coordinator of the Climate Smart Philipstown program, I am concerned that Haldane may upgrade its main building HVAC system to another oil/gas system instead of making the timely switch to ground-source heat pumps, also known as geothermal, which also provide low-cost air conditioning.

    Putnam Valley Central School District has already done this: its high school and middle school installed geothermal heating in 1997, and its elementary school installed 65 percent geothermal heating in 2018. As a result, the district is saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars each year, especially since the high school and middle school investments have been fully paid off.

    I project-managed the LEED certification of a 12,000-square-foot mansion in Garrison that is 100 percent heated and cooled by ground-source heat pumps. As a result, while working closely with all involved parties, I was able to observe firsthand the environmental, energy and economic benefits of such a system, and they were impressive: The ground-source heat pumps 1) drastically reduced heating emissions especially when combined with onsite solar panels (which Haldane already has), 2) provided low-cost cooling during the summer, which is pertinent for Haldane because of the increasing number and intensity of heat waves forecasted during June to September), 3) placed much less demand on the electricity grid compared to air-source heat pumps, which capture heat from the air instead of the earth, and 4) were much more cost-effective to run compared to the preexisting, oil-based heating system as well as compared to the latest oil, gas or air-source heat-pump alternatives.

    Lastly, to help Haldane make this switch to ground-source heat pumps, I have contacts at Central Hudson, NYSERDA, NYSDEC, local and regional HVAC contractors, local and regional sustainability nonprofits as well as state-appointed sustainability partners, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Hudson Valley Regional Council, all of whom can help facilitate Haldane’s switch, much like Putnam Valley has already done. Please count me in to assist with this initiative.

  4. As long-time residents of the Haldane school district, we applaud Superintendent Benante and the Haldane school board for agreeing to seriously consider green energy approaches to the new HVAC system being planned for the Haldane school.

    It makes sense from every perspective to use heat pumps rather than relying on a gas or oil fueled system. Government rebates and incentives will minimize the short term economic impact and a heat pump system will yield substantial savings on the district’s energy bills over time, so from a financial point of view the taxpayers will be well served by a heat pump system.

    Even more compelling though, is that the district will be modeling to its students and the broader community the importance of individual choices in our collective efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and limit further damage to the environment. (After all, it is climate change that has made air conditioning a virtual necessity for this Hudson Valley school to operate comfortably for its students and staff). And consider the educational opportunities for teaching students at all levels about earth science, physics, civics, economics and undoubtedly other useful lessons that can be drawn from this real-life endeavor. Installing heat pumps at Haldane is a win-win and we are proud that the superintendent and the board are open to reconsidering their approach and doing what is best for their students and this community.

  5. Great to see the school looking at sustainable heating and cooling systems. In addition, there are other ways to reduce heat loss/gain that would benefit the plan. Some of them are already considered in the master plan. These include: zoned heating and cooling systems, reflective roof surfaces, Low-E double glazed windows and doors, solar fabric window treatments, economizers and heat reclaim (recovery systems.) Before heat pump systems can be contemplated geological borings will determine if the level of rock drilling for the heat loops is a viable investment. This is anything from a foregone conclusion. Thus there may be a practical reason why the district may be able to specify a heat pump system.

  6. How many more classrooms do they need? There were only 700 to 800 students even before the new high school opened and we all fit fine. Now there are only around 900. [via Facebook]

  7. I graduated in 2018 and the classrooms had empty seats. This seems like yet another plan to push out the Cold Spring locals, making it impossible to live here affordably with the extra tax costs. [via Facebook]

  8. It’s disturbing that in such tough economic times the school would push out a project with this magnitude of a price tag. I hope there is a smaller-scale, more-affordable option being considered. It is already expensive to live in Cold Spring, and for good reasons, but this is completely unnecessary. [via Facebook]

  9. Absolutely amazing. I bet Haldane is re-thinking the sale of land around James Pond for artificial grass (which now may just be the most expensive plastic grass ever) and isn’t it close to its projected life expectancy). Just 10 percent tax increase! Maybe the new superintendent’s salary should be predicated on continued excellence in education and cost savings to the district, then we might see some reasonable thinking.

    It’s always easy to spend other’s money when attempting to put one’s own mark on the world. You will find no community prouder of their students or supporters of its faculty. But this plan as presented puts community and taxpayers against each other. What is not outlined here is that many of the current taxpayers walked the same halls now deemed antiquated. Makes one wonder if the current matrix is actually part of Haldane’s success.

    P.S. I would also like to see the projected increase in traffic and visitor numbers from the Fjord Trail included in the school’s overall plan (will Haldane still be able continue with open campus status?) with hundreds if not thousands of visitors daily. Not until Albany forces the amalgamation of Haldane and Garrison should the community even discuss opening their check books to such a project.

  10. This is the precise time to get the ball rolling for extensive and much-needed projects like this. The economy is doing well, by all indicators. It’s time to show our youth some commitment, and this project seems reasonable and imperative, especially Phase 1. The STEAM classroom should be fast-tracked. Hopefully, the project will give parents and students incentive to forgo private schools such as Hackley and Masters, and it would be a good opportunity to attract more diverse residents.

    In addition, lauded school districts, with high-value tax rates, like this area, positively influence home values. I’m a taxpayer who considers others, like students and their education. This is a well-resourced community that can absolutely afford to fund Haldane’s future. [via Facebook]

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