October 19, 2021

Christian school eyes Parker Elementary

Youth Bureau, YMCA not interested in site

Cortland Standard file photo

A school bus pulls away from Parker Elementary School in Cortland. File photo from June 2018.

Cortland Christian Academy has discussed with the Cortland City School District the school occupying the soon-to-be vacant Parker Elementary School, Christian school leader Craig Miller said this morning.

Miller said the pre-kindergarten-12 school needs more space and has been monitoring what the district has been doing for two years. The school has 161 students in 12,000 square feet that it shares with Bible Baptist Church on West Road in Cortlandville.

Parker Elementary, which the Board of Education voted earlier this month to close in July 2019 along with Virgil Elementary, has 50,000 square feet.

“Certainly the additional space is something that we are aware of and is consistent with our own needs and the added appeal of being able to occupy space that is currently being utilized for educational purposes, where we could relocate without major renovations … is certainly appealing,” Miller said.

It is unclear how this would fit with Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin’s interest in the building. Tobin has also been meeting with district Superintendent Michael Hoose about ideas for the school, but he isn’t saying what they are.

A city Common Council meeting Tuesday will discuss those ideas, he said last week. “It’s not the mayor’s decision,” he said.

The school board voted to close the two elementary schools to save money and avoid millions of dollars in renovations. The board votes Tuesday on how to configure the three remaining elementary schools.

It has not announced plans for the two vacated buildings.

Hoose and Tobin have said they’d like Parker school used in a way consistent with the neighborhood and its history. The neighborhood is residential. Suggett Park is just across Madison Street from the school. The building is, of course, ideal for educational uses.

Tobin said he has heard rumors about the Youth Bureau possibly being interested in using the building.

Youth Bureau Director John McNerney has heard the rumors, too.

They’re not accurate.

“We’re happy where we’re at,” McNerney said last week. The 20,000-square-foot recreation center on Port Watson Street opened in 1995, McNerney said, and the offices there opened four years later.

The Youth Bureau oversees about 120 recreational programs, like sports and movies in the park, McNerney said. It also oversees 80 acres of parks and assists the town of Cortlandville with its parks.

The department also operates the youth services division, which the youth center on Port Watson Street is for. Teens go to the center after school to hang out with friends in a supervised environment.

Child-care capacity is an issue in Cortland and certainly using a retired elementary school for pre-schoolers instead of elementary schoolers is consistent with the building’s traditional use and setting. However, Kelly Tobin, director of the agency running the city’s largest child-care operation and Brian Tobin’s wife, said she remains committed to a project under development on Homer Avenue, not the Parker school.

“The Homer Avenue project is moving forward and a project of this magnitude takes time to put together with many moving pieces,” Tobin said.

Tobin, executive director of the YWCA, one of a number of organizations expected to fill a 65,000-square-foot building in what is now an underused shopping plaza on Homer Avenue in a project developer David Yaman has volunteered to organize.

“We have been in close communication with our team and funders to assure our grants are not in jeopardy and the project will still renovate the blighted, (mostly) empty building that will be a mixed use of private and not for profit entities,” said Tobin, whose organization plans to consolidate two child-care programs into one site.

The $5.5 million 172-174 Homer Ave. plaza project would house nonprofit agencies.

Whatever happens to Parker school will require money: money to buy the building and money to renovate it. A consultant the school district hired appraised it at $12 million, but it’s unlikely to sell for that amount. The building is 90 years old and needs nearly $6 million in repairs and renovations over the next five years.

Miller would not comment on Cortland Christian Academy’s ability to buy or lease the building.

Brian Tobin had said sales tax revenue could help the city acquire the building, and had proposed a new distribution plan with Cortland County that would have given the city an extra $360,000 a year, based on last year’s $28.9 million in sales tax revenue. However, the county countered with a plan that would take away nearly $400,000 a year, instead.

If the city’s share of sales tax is reduced, the mayor said the city would be hard pressed to do anything with the school. However, he said the city plans to explore any potential revenue source to relieve the burden on taxpayers.

Board moves on restructuring vote

By Catherine Wilde

The Cortland Board of Education plans to proceed with a vote Tuesday to reconfigure three remaining elementary schools, despite conflict with the public over both an earlier decision to close two schools and what to do with the remaining ones.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m.

A petition is being circulated among district residents calling upon the district to find alternatives to school closures. Some residents still hope the district could rescind its June 5 vote to close Virgil and Parker.

“My concern is grade centers and the fact I think a public forum should be held on that and discussion held on that,” said Christina Darling, whose children go to Barry Elementary School.

Darling is worried that creating grade centers, or kindergarten-2 in one building, 3-4 in another and 5-6 in a third, will create chaos for families like hers, who would have a child in each building.

Instead, she’d rather see only one elementary school closed, and kindergarten- to sixth-grade configurations in the other four.

Donald Chu of Cortland has circulated a petition calling for the district to find alternative cuts that would avoid closing Parker and Virgil schools. So far he has about 30 signatures.

School board President Janet Griffin said in an e-mail Thursday the vote will proceed. She hadn’t heard about a petition and has only heard from two parents about the reconfiguration since the last meeting.

“The harsh reality is that there is absolutely no way that we can please everyone,” she said.

How to reconfigure them

Cortland elementary school teachers were polled about the advantages and disadvantages of the grade center versus the K-4, 5-6 configuration. Here’s a summary:

Grade center (Kindergarten-2, 3-4, 5-6)

• More collaboration among teachers and students.
• Social emotional learning planned on the school level.
• Better pooling of resources, more equalized class size.
• Special education teachers can focus on particular grades.
• More targeted education for students with varying developmental abilities.

• Difficult for parents of multiple children to coordinate transportation and after-school activities.
• Too many transitions for students from one school to the next.
• Deters family engagement.
• Siblings not in same building.

Two kindergarten-4 buildings, one 5-6 building

• Students can share a school with a sibling.
• Easier teacher collaboration between grade levels.
• Students establish rapport with faculty.
• Less travel time and easier coordination for parents.

• Continuation of the same problems that exist now with transiency and different expectations among buildings
• Drawing up of lines for socioeconomic concerns.
• Special education teachers spread over three buildings.
• A loss of building culture.