December 8, 2021

Virgil school purchase won’t be on Nov. 5 ballot

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/contributing photographer

Virgil Elementary School, home of the Vikings, closed at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. File photo from May 2019.

VIRGIL — The Town of Virgil will not hold a referendum Nov. 5 to decide the fate of the former Virgil Elementary School.

Supervisor John Kaminsky said Thursday the town missed the Aug. 5 deadline for a referendum on this year’s general election ballot. Kaminsky apologized for the lapse, after promising at the July public meeting that he would do so.

It never happened, he said, because he sought more input from board members and residents, but did not receive enough information quickly enough to call a special meeting needed to approve a resolution authorizing the referendum.

“I gave it my best shot to get it on the ballot, and I failed,” Kaminsky said at a town board meeting.

This failure leaves the fate of the school uncertain.

Kaminsky said his next step is addressing a list of 19 concerns expressed by board member Jereme Stiles, including an elevator inspection on the building and the cost of servicing the boilers.

Resident Sylvia Cook urged the board to challenge an appraisal commissioned by the Cortland Enlarged School District on the Virgil school, which valued the property at at $360,000. This value is based on comparisons to properties unlike the Virgil school, she said, and the value, in her opinion, should be much lower.

Still to come

• The Virgil town board will next take up the Virgil school issue at its next regularly schedule meeting on Sept. 5.
• The Cortland Common Council will revisit the future of the Parker school at its next scheduled meeting Aug. 20, when the Parker school task force will present its recommendations to the council.

While both Virgil and Cortland have discussed scenarios in which they might buy Virgil and Parker schools from the school district for a nominal amount, that entails a number of restrictions, while buying the building at fair market value would not.

The restrictions stem 2016 renovations on the schools, financed with bonds issued by the state Dormitory Authority issued by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, according to a July 19 memo written by bond attorney Matthew Wells, who outlined four options Cortland and Virgil could consider:

• The school district could obtain an appraisal for either school, then sell that school at fair market value. The school district could then use the proceeds to pay down the bond. This would release the school building from the bond restrictions, but Virgil residents and board members said they are worried that an unknown third party might buy the school instead.

• The district could sell either school for a nominal price, then the city or town could use the school for government purposes. Private use of the building, including non-profit use, would be restricted, and a violation could make the new owner “liable for any use that jeopardizes the tax-exempt status of the DASNY bonds,” Wells wrote. Neither municipality planned to use the buildings solely for government purposes.

• The district could sell either building for a nominal price, then pay down the bond obligations out of its own coffers, but Virgil board member Matthew Denniston said he didn’t see how this would be in the school district’s interest.

• The district could sell either school for a nominal price, and Cortland or Virgil could then enter into a contract for a portion of the facility with a third party, such as a non-profit, to manage it, Wells wrote.

However, this third party would have to comply with Internal Revenue Service procedures, and the municipality could not share in any net profit from the third party, nor could the third party share any losses. If anything went wrong, the municipality would be on the hook. Moreover, if there were any violation of the bond restrictions, the municipality would be on the hook for that obligation as well.