October 23, 2021

School, child care groups could share Parker school

Joe McIntyre/file photo

Parker Elementary School in Cortland. File photo.

Three child-care agencies and a church-based school agreed this week they could share a soon-to-be closed Cortland elementary school.

However they still must run the numbers and create a business plan, perhaps by January, governing how they would take on the maintenance costs associated with the 90-year-old Parker Elementary School — which also needs about $4.3 million in renovations over the next two years.

The city of Cortland still has to decide if it will buy the building and provide the umbrella under which the agencies apply for funding. City aldermen have also made it clear they don’t want this venture to come at a cost to the city.
The Cortland city school district is closing the 50,000-square-foot Parker Elementary School on Madison Street in July. The three child-care agencies — CAPCO, the YWCA and The Child Development Center — suggest they could share the space with Cortland Christian Academy this way:

— CAPCO could house 70 to 80 pre-kindergartners in four classrooms, opening up classrooms in other locations to serve the birth- to 36-month age group, which now has a waiting list of 79 people. It could also prepare and serve meals from the kitchen at Parker Elementary School.
— The YWCA could merge two day-care programs, Learning Adventures on Huntington Street and Here We Grow on Homer Avenue, to serve 108 children under one roof.
— The Child Development Center on Pomeroy Street could move one universal pre-kindergarten classroom and one pre-kindergarten class there for a total of 30 kids, freeing space to add 24 more children to its Pomeroy Street facility.
— Cortland Christian Academy could relocate from the space it has outgrown on Route 281 where it has 160 students.

The city-assembled task force has been meeting to consider uses for the building to recommend to the school board, which will decide what to do with it. The panel has concluded it should serve youths.

The city, if it buys the building, would have to be the grant administrator for any funding the agencies seek, said Alderwoman Katy Silliman, a task force member. What concerns her more is who would pay to maintain the building.

Most of the $4.3 million in repairs stems from $2.5 million in heating, air conditioning and ventilation repairs, $416,000 in interior spaces and $577,000 in equipment costs, task force member Beau Harbin, a Cortland County legislator, has said.

“We have to make sure it doesn’t cost city taxpayers extra,” Silliman said.

Grants are available to help with startup costs, but not yearly operational costs, said YWCA Executive Director Kelly Tobin.
The agencies stand a better chance of getting grant funding under one umbrella, Tobin said, something Silliman doesn’t mind the city providing for them, as long as there’s no cost attached.

The program directors say the community needs their services to expand. Some parents commute to Syracuse and send their children to day-care there, but an expansion could keep them here.

At one location, they say the agencies could share meal services, substitute teachers and other functions.
“There’s huge potential for there to be a lot of resource sharing there,” said Nicole Meeker, assistant director at the Child Development Center.

“Cortland is not able to serve the community child-care needs,” she said. “Some kids we don’t take until they’re 3 and they’ve been on the wait list since they were infants.”

The demand for child care is an economic issue, Cortland County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Haight said.
Haight said parents often have to choose between child care and work, and without quality child care options the future work force suffers as children who need early intervention go without that.

But task force members are hopeful.

“It sounds like they have done a lot of homework and can see this could actually work,” Silliman said.

“This is the first time since the vote on closing Parker that I feel good about this,” said Christine Gregory, a task force member and member of the school board.