Petition: keep our school in Walden

Posted 5/22/24

"We the undersigned request full disclosure and accountability by the Valley Central School Board and Administration regarding the status and future of the Walden Elementary School.”

The …

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Petition: keep our school in Walden


"We the undersigned request full disclosure and accountability by the Valley Central School Board and Administration regarding the status and future of the Walden Elementary School.”

The words above are part of a petition being circulated by a number of concerned Village of Walden residents who gathered last week to discuss the nearly century-old school building that has been on the minds of many in the Valley Central community recently.

The school district has hosted several tours of the school in recent months to gather feedback on what might be done that, the district concedes is in serious need of major repair and improvements that include an elevator or two.

Unlike the prior sessions, though, this one was not sanctioned by the board of education. It was called by Becky Pearson, a Walden village trustee and alumna, who stressed that she wasn’t acting in any “official” capacity, other than a concerned citizen.

“I’m just doing it as a citizen of the village. I’m just not really concerned about things,” Pearson said. “I just thought putting it out there, getting people to come and listen and give us your views and how you feel.”

The Valley Central School District, in early 2017, first raised the possibility of replacing the school, among the oldest in the district. A five-year plan, issued at that time, identified a new elementary school in the village as a wish-list item. The estimated cost of a new school building was estimated at $40 million, according to then-superintendent John Xanthis, with the state picking up approximately 67 percent of the cost.

There had been no further public discussion of replacing the Walden school, until 2024, but the district has undertaken several capital projects to improve all of its facilities, with more proposed. In January, another five-year plan was proposed, with many improvements in the list for Walden, including an electrical distribution system, water supply system repairs, air conditioning and a cafeteria expansion.

“So when they started talking about the tours this year, I went on the first tour, and then I went on the last tour, see if it was anything different between the two tours,” Pearson said. “Plus I had meetings in between, so those were the two tours that went on.”

While there was no consensus among the approximately 20 people who attended last Thursday’s meeting at Walden Village Hall as to whether the school should be saved or replaced, all did agree that Walden should not suffer the same fate as Maybrook, which lost its K-5 elementary school several years ago. Like Walden, the Maybrook school which dates back to 1920, was once a K-12 school building. The building now houses the Alternative Learning Center, described on the Valley Central website as a “safe and therapeutically supportive environment where students who struggle with anxiety are comfortable and able to reach their academic potential. This innovative program helps students at all levels find balance in their emotional, developmental and educational processes.”

The Walden group expressed fears the the entire village would suffer without a school.

“When they decide they want to possibly take away this school, if they choose to do that, you will no longer have people come into the library, they won’t be going to Hannaford they won’t be going to get some pizza businesses will suffer,” Pearson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll suffer, so the economic value to that is also keeping it in the village.”

Kerron Barnes agreed.

“I see this school as an important part of a complex that’s at the center of the village. You have a synagogue, you have two or three churches, you have a music store, you have places to eat,” Barnes said. “Police, library, and the school. And it all fits into a complex that, you know, it’s really part of the community. When you take that away, you lose something that’s in the heart that’s been there.”

Barnes suggested the right approach might be to build a new building somewhere near the center of the village.

“My thought is lose the building save the school, so I would be happy if they put all the fancy technology and types of flooring and elevators and everything and keep it here in the village if that can be done,” he said.

Pearson produced a petition that she had prepared and invited audience members to help circulate it. She offered to deliver it to school board.

“The recent public tours of the school have produced more questions than answers,” the petition reads. “ As community members, parents, and grandparents, we are concerned that the village of Walden will lose its neighborhood school if a serious effort does not mean to prepare or renovate the current structure in the program location.”