Saratoga Springs

NYRA loans picnic tables to Saratoga Springs School District for outdoor eating, classes

A stack of picnic tables from NYRA are loaded up on a flatbed destined for Saratoga Springs middle and high schools. Photo by Stan Hudy/Staff

A stack of picnic tables from NYRA are loaded up on a flatbed destined for Saratoga Springs middle and high schools. Photo by Stan Hudy/Staff

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Freshman, table for two? Freshman, table for two?

There may not be a hostess available to make seating arrangements at Saratoga Springs High School and Maple Avenue Middle School this fall, but students now will be encouraged to dine alfresco.

The Saratoga Springs School District teamed up with the New York Racing Association and Saratoga Race Course to borrow 175 picnic tables to use this fall and spring for outdoor seating.

“The first time my family ate out we ate in Congress Park at one of the picnic tables that NYRA donated to the city,” Saratoga Springs High School assistant principal, Devin Wolpert, said on Tuesday. “It just felt so good to be outside and to be eating.

“It just kind of popped into my head that this would be great for kids to be able to socialize outdoors, eat lunch, something that not only solves a logistical program, weather permitting, but also gives kids a better cafeteria experience. Instead of eating socially distanced indoors, it’s outdoors across a nice table.”

His idea was solidified when he, among others, walked past Saratoga Race Course this season looking in at a meet without thousands of fans inside.

“I saw the hundreds of picnic tables sadly lined up against the fence which kind of pieced it together,” Wolpert said. “I feel bad that there aren’t people at the track to use them, but at the same time we could really use some durable outdoor furniture to provide an eating area for our kids.”

One hundred of the picnic tables are expected to be arranged at the high school with the remainder placed at Maple Avenue Middle School.

“One hundred tables in the courtyard, a 6-foot table, a student at either end of the table, at least two more student places as long as the weather cooperates,” City School District Superintendent Michael Patton said Tuesday morning. “Hopefully, our teachers can take advantage of it during the day if they want to bring smaller classes out and have the opportunity to be outdoors.”

Patton said the class sizes this year will be reduced to 15 students when social distancing guidelines are applied. Classes typically number 25  to 28 students.

The picnic tables are part of the solution, when weather conditions allow.

“If you know teenagers, they can handle extreme cold pretty well,” Wolpert said. “I anticipate that we’re going to get seven months of use out of these. NYRA requested them back before the next meet.”

Students are expected to return to the Saratoga Springs schools later this month as school districts across the state continue to make adjustments.

“The logistics of this from an administrative standpoint, the whole opening has been very challenging,” Wolpert said. “We were thinking out of the box constantly. We are changing locations in the building, spreading kids out as much as possible.”

Wolpert said NYRA expects it to take two days to arrange 100 picnic tables in the courtyard at the high school after Tuesday’s delivery.

“Nothing has been normal about this year, but hopefully this is going to solve a problem for us,” he said.

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