December 8, 2021

Task force winnows Parker school options

Cortland Standard file photo

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

The planned move of the Cortland YWCA day-care programs to a site on Homer Avenue in Cortland is at a “brief pause” while the agency considers what a move to Parker Elementary School, instead, would entail, YWCA Executive Director Kelly Tobin said Thursday.

A task force exploring potential uses of Parker Elementary School agreed Wednesday night about the top contenders to occupy the Madison Street school: Day care centers in the city, CAPCO and Cortland Christian Academy.

The Cortland school board voted earlier this year to close Virgil and Parker elementary schools in July 2019.

The YWCA has been planning a move of its day care centers to a shopping plaza on Homer Avenue. David Yaman is developing the $5.5 million project, which would host organizations such as the YWCA, Seven Valleys Health Coalition, and Cortland County Community Action Program. Cornell Cooperative Extension, originally also slated for the space, has backed out.

Tobin said she should hear any day from an architect about the feasibility of converting the 50,000-squarefoot, 90-year-old school to suit the needs of toddlers and infants. There are many questions, she said, such as requirements for classrooms to have seperate egress.

Even if the architect says it’s suited, because the YWCA plans for relocating to Homer Avenue are further along in the process, she said she’d have questions the Parker task force isn’t ready to answer.

“I think they’re still trying to work out ownership of Parker School and what that would look like,” Tobin said. “So with that, is the task force looking for agencies to come in renting space and are there maintenance needs that could be costly to an organization coming in?”

Finding money for capital improvement projects is a struggle for non-profits like the YWCA, she said, so funding renovations to the 90- year-old building could prove challenging.

The strong interest from CAPCO to house programs like Head Start and Early Head Start as well as new space for Cortland Christian Academy to expand are also possibilities, said Bill Williams, a member of the Parker task force. Anything that would preserve the building, which borders his property, and keep it serving children, is good.

“I am really excited that the opportunities that it could be used for are for the betterment of kids in the community,” Williams said.

City Mayor Brian Tobin — married to Kelly Tobin — has been hosting the task force meetings, because the city has expressed its interest in the future of the building.

No decision has been made about ownership yet — the Cortland Board of Education will decide that when it sells the building — but the city does not want to see the building used for something that doesn’t fit with the residential neighborhood, Brian Tobin said.

Brian Tobin said there’s no conflict in working with Kelly Tobin because of the other players in the decision. The task force, which includes county legislators, city aldermen and residents, will make a recommendation on the building’s best use, he said. Then the school district will decide. Tobin said he has no vote in the matter and neither Tobin is employed by the school district.

The next step is for the task force to determine the costs associated with taking on, converting and operating the building, Brian Tobin said. The task force meets again the first week in October.

The school district had identified about $4.3 million in priority projects that will be needed at Parker over the next two years.

Tobin wants to find out which ones of those would be necessary, rather than simply desired. The task force also must determine how much it would cost for each of the candidate tenants to convert space to suit its needs, and who would bear those costs.

“It will be a joint effort by the task force and my office,” Tobin said.