October 19, 2021

Virgil plans vote on uses for elementary school

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Virgil elementary school is shown in this file photo.

Virgil residents may vote on the town taking over the local elementary school — the latest development as two municipalities faced with the closure of their neighborhood schools figure out what to do.

The Cortland Enlarged City School District is closing Parker and Virgil elementary schools in July and the neighboring communities don’t want to see those buildings lie vacant or go to an unwanted use.

That’s why Virgil is considering taking ownership and a city-convened task force is eyeing uses for Parker Elementary School.

The district’s school board voted last year to close Virgil and Parker elementary schools to stop the yearly use of about $2.4 million from reserves to balance the budget. District officials plan to convert the three remaining schools to grade centers.

Virgil Deputy Town Supervisor Jereme Stiles said the town is considering having a referendum in the spring on whether to take over Virgil Elementary School.

However, that comes at a cost — about $57,000 a year to maintain the building, said Stiles, equal to about a $30 increase on the tax bill for a $100,000 house.

So the town wants to make sure that if it takes over the building, it would be able to put it to good use.

Stiles and another town board member, Matt Denniston, are leading a committee that is brainstorming ideas for the building, Stiles said, though there have been no solid leads so far.

Ideas floated so far include a child-care center, senior citizen housing or a community center, but nothing seems to have the revenue-generating potential to offset the cost, Stiles said. The 35,000-square-foot building, built in 1932, has three levels and 10 full-sized classrooms, making it the smallest of the district elementary schools. It also has a gymnasium, auditorium/ lunch room, art room, library and music room. “If we don’t have viable solutions I’m not sure it’s the greatest direction to go, to take it over,” Stiles said. “If we don’t have a good game plan, there’s no sense burdening the taxpayers.”

If the town does not end up taking over the building, Stiles said ultimately the town zoning board would get to decide in favor or against any proposed use, since it lies in a residential zone.

In the meantime, district Superintendent Michael Hoose said there’s at least one potentially interested occupant out there for both schools. Hoose said he was contacted in mid- January by a non-for profit housing company out of Binghamton — The S.E.P.P. Group — expressing its interest in possibly taking over either Virgil or Parker elementary school for use as senior housing.

S.E.P.P. Executive Director John Bernardo could not be reached for comment.

Hoose said he did not answer the inquiry because he is still unsure what the city and town wish to do with the schools. After the district hears from these entities, it will have a better idea, he said.

“Then the board (of education) will decide if the city or town are open or interested, whether we will deed it over to them or put it on the open market,” he said.

One of the groups Hoose is waiting to hear from is the Parker Task Force, a city-led panel that is studying uses for the school.

Led by YWCA Executive Director Kelly Tobin, the panel has winnowed its options to include child-care agencies, CAPCO and Cortland Christian Academy sharing space in the building.

The entities are still drawing up budgets and figuring out the financial feasibility of occupying the building, Tobin said.