Board defends Santos expansion purchase

| 29 Sep 2011 | 09:51

DINGMAN - Depending on your point of view, the Santos farm is either overpriced and underwater, or strategically located and much needed. Critics of last month’s school board purchase decision questioned the panel on Oct. 19 when they met at the Dingman-Delaware Middle School. A resolution to contract with a planning consultant to recover some of the Santos purchase money prompted audience questioning about the decision and highlighted the philosophical split between board veterans and its three newest members, Deborah DuCharme, Ed Silverstone and Robert Goldsack. DuCharme immediately said she would not vote for supporting measures for a purchase she opposed. Several audience members questioned the cost. “At $230,000 an acre, there has to be another option,” said Diane French. The issue of flooding was brought up repeatedly by French and Jack Ritter, who called the land a “flood zone.” But Board Vice-President John Wroblewski said statements that only 38 acres of the property was buildable, were “just plain wrong.” He said that letters in the newspapers are “not a good place for information.” But Goldsack, arguing that the 38-acre number came from Pike County Planning Commission, said, “It’s not an opinion, not a guess; it’s from another government agency.” Sally Corrigan of the Pike County Planning Office later told the Courier that the information was not a product of the planning commission, but part of information “floating around.” She could not recall where it originated, and neither confirmed nor rejected it. Responding to Goldsack, Jack Fisher defended the purchase, saying that during the district’s two year search, the property was the best seen so far, adding, “We’ve got six months in the contract to pull the plug.” School officials say they need little more than 20 acres to build a new elementary school and that the National Park Service retains an interest in purchasing the flood plain, if funding becomes available. Contradicting earlier reports, the district has not rejected interest in the property’s smaller western side, according to board president Sue Casey. “It would be a shame to tear down that farm,” she said. “But I’ve got kids to educate.” The future of the farm and the use of flood plain is part of the discussion that continues at a focus group of local, state and federal representatives that Corrigan has been facilitating since July of last year. “The purchase hasn’t changed that discussion. It seems to have renewed interest in getting all the parties together,” she said. The board split 6-3 on the final vote, as they did on a later resolution to supplement the capital reserve fund for building repairs that opponents argued were unbudgeted. The board’s Nov. 16 meeting, originally scheduled for the Shohola Elementary School, has been moved to the high school auditorium at the Westfall campus.