November 27, 2021

Council requests formal Parker proposal

Joe McIntyre/file photo

Parker Elementary School in Cortland. File photo.

Cortland’s common council voted, 7-0, Tuesday night to direct the Parker School Task Force to submit a formal proposal regarding the future of the soon-to-close Parker school, even though one of the three groups expected to occupy the school, the Cortland Christian Academy, dropped out of consideration.

That happened about three weeks ago, said Mayor Brian Tobin, when it was discovered that a bond provision prohibits the school district from selling the school for less than fair market value if the buyer plans to use the property for religious education.

Losing that group cut the number of children who might have occupied Parker Elementary School by nearly half: Cortland Christian Academy had proposed putting 160 children into the building. The YWCA proposed to put 108 children, and CAPCO 24 infants and toddlers and 64 pre-school students, into the building.

Tobin said the task force will now consider other options. He did not rule out the possibility the bond issue might be avoided by a third party purchasing the school for fair market value, thus allowing the Cortland Christian Academy to participate.

“That has been actively considered all along,” he said.

Funding for the project continues to remain unclear. Task force member Kristina Gambitta and YWCA Executive Director Kelly Tobin discusssed possible grants the city and the partner nonprofit groups can apply for, but none of these grants have yet been secured.

Gambitta stressed the urgent need for child care in Cortland.

“The state has recognized this as a crisis, which it certainly is,”she said.

Tobin pressed the council on the need to act quickly so the project would be able to obtain grant money, while also acknowledging the proposal was risky because much of the funding was uncertain.

Jo Ann Wickman, a retired Cortland High School teacher, also encouraged the council to act soon.

“You folks have the opportunity to move this project along,” Wickman said.

But aldermen expressed concerns about how the project would cover basic costs.

Task force members said at a May public meeting the project would require $460,000 in initial startup expenses, $166,000 in annual operating expenses, and $2 million in capital investment over the next 10 years.

Alderman Carlos Ferrer (D-6th Ward) said he was in favor of the project, but had concerned about building maintenance and heating.

Alderman John Bennett (D-4th Ward) said he wanted evidence the project, if approved, would not cost the city anything.

Gambitta said in a worst-case scenario, the city could sell the school.

Ferrer said he wanted any sale agreement with the school district to include a stipulation that the city could sell the property if necessary.

More than 75 people attended Tuesday night’s council meeting.