HINSDALE, NY -- Members of the Hinsdale community voiced concerns about the district's proposed $6.8 million capital project.during an information session about the proposal Wednesday
Frequent questions from the nearly 30 community members in attendance filled the hour-and-a-half presentation by a panel composed of Superintendent Larry Ljungberg, Hinsdale Central School Ahletic Director Mark Crino and Business Administrator Jennifer Jaquith.
As Ljungberg described the logistics of the newly proposed plan, which would include renovations to existing facilities, the purchase of nearly 14 acres of property adjacent to the school and the creation of an athletic complex and nature study area, community members raised several questions. Their concerns ranged from expected costs of maintenance after the project's completion to Hinsdale's declining student enrollment, which is down by nearly 150 students in recent years. Many Hinsdale taxpayers voiced their concerns as to whether their money would be supporting a lost cause.
"How confident are you about the current STAR program?" Norman Emerson asked. "Our governor would really like you to consolidate. The president is cutting federal aid to schools by 13 percent. This is a 15-year project. Things can change very drastically within that time period."
Ljungberg said he empathized with the concern, but doesn't expect the school to go away any time soon.
"We have a lot of great things going for us financially and academically," Ljungberg said. "The school's not going to go away. They're going to focus on priority schools and focus on schools persistently failing. We're not on that list."
Several Hinsdale Central School teachers attested to the district's value. Among them was first-grade teacher Jenny Bergstrom.
"I've been here 20 years, and I love my job," Bergstrom said. "I feel so strongly about this school that I pull my kids from Olean."
Board President Jennifer Howell expressed similar sentiments.
"When we're looking for families and businesses to move in, part of keeping our community active and up to date is drawing those resources," Howell said. "They're looking at all these school districts, and I fully agree with you. I don't want to see those businesses and families go."
And Ljungberg said he believes that if they build the complex, students will come.
"We fight back," Ljungberg said. "I do know, and I tell this to staff, if we can maintain strong grades and strong financials, we're going to be fine. But we can't just go on our merits. It's almost like the adage 'If you're not growing, you're dying.' "
Crino said he hoped building the complex would help support such new growth, especially in terms of Hinsdale's soccer program.
"When I started back in 2007, we were scraping to get even seven to nine students on a team," Crino said. "This year we had 16, and I know the girls' team had close to 16 as well. Soccer's becoming the sport. We're hoping to accommodate that, we're hoping to attract more kids—more soccer kids—and eventually expand the athletic program."
But with such limited numbers, how can the school justify building a multi-million dollar athletic complex, asked one member of the crowd while several others nodded in agreement.
Ljungberg said it wasn't just about the athletic complex. He reminded the crowd that the proposed budget includes building renovations as well as construction of the nature pavilion.
"Think about aquatic studies, science, ELA, math," Ljungberg said. "Wetlands are one of the most diverse ecological environments out there. I saw six different types of water fowl, deer and fish jumping, and I wasn't even looking."
"Think about seventh-grade science classes going out in the pavilion and doing long-term studies," he continued. "It's literally real science. They can use math and statistical analysis. They can write about it. That's what we can do. It's exciting."
Bergstrom said the students were excited too.
"They're hoping for it," Bergstrom said. "If you listen to kids talking in the hallways, they're very excited."
While more concerns were raised about costs -- the average increase in yearly taxes for a Hinsdale resident would be $70, Jaquith said -- Ljungberg assured the community that the money would be for a good cause.
"The school is kind of the focal point of the community, and I do believe that," Ljungberg said. "At the end of the day, my job is to keep Hinsdale alive and well."
The official capital project vote will be held April 4 from noon to 8 p.m. in the athletic entrance of the lower gym.