New Lebanon’s future

FI-EditorialIt’s clear something must be done about New Lebanon School. But how do you balance acting quickly with acting smartly?

Of all the options presented to the Board of Education last week to deal with the overcrowding at the school that forces storage closets to be converted into education space and will mean kindergartners will be outside the school for half the day starting in September, the one that seems to make the most sense is simply building a new school. While this is not a cheap option, it’s looking more and more like it could be a necessary one.

It’s early in the process, of course, and things can easily change as more information is presented and more discussion occurs. But so far the option that seems to have the most acceptance among the parents is one that would see a new school built on the ballfield adjacent to the current building. Once the new school is completed, the old school would be torn down and a new ballfield built in its place.

This is a good plan for many reasons, the least of which is it would cause the least disruption to the daily life at New Lebanon School and would maintain what is an important center of the community by providing a new building and a new field. But it’s an expensive plan. The initial projected cost for this project is $33.2 million and while that could well go down there’s a bit of sticker shock that comes with it.

Just because the price seems high is no reason to back away from doing what must be done. The overcrowding at New Lebanon School might only have gotten serious attention on a townwide level over the course of the last year, but it’s nothing new for the community. Just ask the parents. They’ll tell you they’ve been sounding the alarm for years and it’s only been since William McKersie took over as superintendent that any action has been taken.

Something must be done. It’s unacceptable to be wedging students into an overcrowded school, especially when New Lebanon has so much on its plate already. For too long this has been a problem that’s been ignored and the students have paid the price with overcrowded conditions and stress on families and educators.

The Board of Education seems poised to act as it is moving aggressively on finding the best solution and turning it into reality. There could be delays ahead, not due to the school board or Dr. McKersie, but because they will not be the final word. A capital project like this will need Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and Representative Town Meeting (RTM) approval, and would anyone be surprised if they balk at the price?

The BET just said no to new firefighters, people trusted with saving lives in this community. The BET rejected spending thousands on better maintaining town bathrooms. Will it approve millions for a new school? And the RTM? There’s no capital project that it can’t attempt to delay. Will we hear that conditions aren’t that bad and that projections for New Lebanon School show that we don’t even need a new school?

It would be a surprise if we didn’t, and parents should be ready to make their case, not to the school board but to the BET and the RTM. The town needs to act smartly by making the right choice that makes sense for the bottom line and for the community, but it also needs to act quickly.

By even getting these options on the table a big step has been taken. Now there needs to be aggressive follow-up.

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