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Note: Welcome To RCBJ’s New “Your Voices” Column. This feature will run monthly. If you have something to say, in a well-reasoned essay of 500 to 700 words, email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Should Rockland Country Day School Site, Bought By Town of Clarkstown in 2018, Be Preserved Or Developed?
By Laura Metallo-Bidon
When my son graduated from Rockland Country Day School in 2010, he asked in his commencement address: “Where else but here?”
Indeed, there was no place quite like Rockland Country Day School (RCDS). Where else but here…an idyllic 20+ acre campus located at 34 Kings Highway in Congers, dotted with three academic buildings, an art studio, a gymnasium, a caretaker’s cottage, and a STEAM Lab (for hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
And kindness. A profound sense of kindness radiated from the space, along with the sweet scent of magnolias which bloomed each spring, as if to echo the school’s motto: “From Strong Roots We Flourish.”
Alas, the paradise that was RCDS was not to last. The school fell victim to rising costs and declining enrollment. The Town of Clarkstown purchased the campus in 2018 for $4.4 million, offering a lease-back agreement to the school while they searched for a new home. But the debts were insurmountable and the school eventually closed its doors in 2019, after 60 years of service to the community.
When the Town purchased the property, with its rolling fields, outdoor amphitheater, and organic garden, it was lauded by Town officials as a unique opportunity to protect and preserve open space and enhance recreational opportunities for Clarkstown residents.
Announcing the purchase in 2018, Supervisor George Hoehmann stated: “I have made preserving, protecting, and enhancing Clarkstown’s quality of life my number one priority. A key part of that goal is identifying opportunities to purchase lands that could be used to preserve open space or provide more opportunities for our residents to enjoy increased access to parks and other recreational activities. Today’s announcement with Rockland Country Day School is another step in protecting Clarkstown from overdevelopment while providing our residents the public amenities they demand and deserve.”
Councilmember Patrick Carroll lauded the purchase as “a golden opportunity to make a long-term investment in our parks and recreation department and add to our open space.” At the January 2018 Town Board meeting, where the resolution was passed to purchase the property, Councilmember Franchino indicated he would do whatever he could to preserve open space, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Forever.
Fast forward to 2023…While the community continues to benefit from use of the RCDS sports fields, the school’s buildings and gardens have remained empty and have fallen into disrepair. The Town has recently hired an architect to conduct a “feasibility study” for new housing and building reuse options at the site.
Most troubling of all is the shifting political rhetoric, which has changed from what we heard in 2018. Now there is talk of developing multi-family housing on the site.
Most recently, Councilmember Graziano stated: “We bought the property to build housing there. I envision either building market-rate rental housing for seniors and first responders, or selling the land to a developer to build single-family houses.” (Rockland County Business Journal, May 22, 2023).
Ultimately, who gets to decide the future of the RCDS property? Do the people of Clarkstown have a voice? After all, it is Town-owned property. It belongs to ALL of us.
Are we destined to lose more green space to cookie-cutter, particle-board housing development, or can we turn the RCDS property into a space for all to be proud of and enjoy?
How can we honor the strong roots and innovative spirit of RCDS? It will require an open, transparent process. And kindness – which seems to be in short supply these days.
Clarkstown residents must hold the Town Board accountable for openness and transparency in the process of deciding next steps for the property. The Town must give the community a real voice through a public referendum to decide the issue.
And maybe, just maybe, we can save this piece of paradise in Clarkstown.
Laura Metallo-Bidon, LMSW New City, is a member of the Steering Committee of CUPON Clarkstown of Bardonia, Congers, New City, Valley Cottage, and West Nyack.