By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — After months of deliberation, the Shenendehowa Central School District and the town are drawing up a contract that will decide the fate of 32 undeveloped acres of district-owned land.
Though he would not discuss details of the contract yet, Shen Board of Education President Bill Casey said he hopes to release details of the deal within the next two weeks. Ideally, Casey said, residents would vote on the sale in a Dec. 5 referendum that would include a resolution regarding the district’s multimillion-dollar capital project.
“In the next couple weeks we need to button this thing up. That’s our goal,” Casey said.
He indicated the selling price of the land was still being worked out.
School district representatives met with town officials Tuesday to discuss the deal. Casey and school board members Bob Pressly and Tom Gilbert, along with district Superintendent Oliver Robinson and Assistant Superintendent of Finance Kathy Wetmore-Chase, represented the district, while Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett, Town Councilwoman Amy Standaert, Planning Department Director John Scavo and Town Attorney Tom McCarthy represent the town in the negotiations.
After meeting with the town contingent, Casey and the rest of the Board of Education met in executive session Tuesday night, during the regularly scheduled board meeting, to discuss the land-sale progress with an attorney for the district.
“I’ve been the optimist always from the beginning,” Casey said after Tuesday night’s board meeting. “We may be fooling around with the words on the edges, but there’s a will to do this on both sides, so that gives me the optimism.”
“Our meeting with Shen school district representatives yesterday resulted in progress toward a resolution. We are working toward an agreement that will be presented to the community for consideration and a referendum,” Barrett said in a prepared statement. He noted that the two entities were “definitely making progress.”
The land issue has been a topic of controversy since before an April referendum, in which town residents overwhelmingly rejected the district’s proposal to sell the land to BBL Construction for about $2 million.
The vote came after months of harsh campaign rhetoric, with many residents expressing a desire for the land to go to the town and others insisting it should be sold to BBL, which had plans to build a ShopRite store on the parcel.
After outcry over the school board’s perceived lack of transparency in dealing with BBL, the board launched negotiations to sell the land to the town, with the intent of being more open with residents during the process.
Both the school board and the town have defended their use of closed-door meetings during negotiations, noting that such discussions could be difficult in a public forum, where negotiators might feel reservations about thinking out loud or bouncing ideas back and forth.
Previously, the school board said it would accept an offer of $1.3 million from the town for the parcel. During the initial bidding period earlier in the year, the town offered the board $1 million for the land.
Some tangible aspects to a deal that the board has been considering — to make up for the lower-than-original asking price — include sharing the cost of a consultant to plan improvements to the land or working out shared funding for maintenance of athletic fields behind Arongen and Shatekon elementary schools.
“We’re trying to look at a big picture, not just a piece of this,” Casey said. How do we work together on not only the field piece … but on the park piece? Because we think there’s a synergy between having the park right next to the school and having students here. We want to make sure that this isn’t a short-sighted thing that we have a long view of.”