New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie poked his head Monday into the former Parker School in Cortland.
He looked around at the trophies left on the office desk, the reams of paper on a nearby table and the remains of 91 years of schooling.
He heard during a sweep through upstate communities — including a stop at Tompkins Cortland Community College’s new childcare center — how the YWCA and other organizations would like to convert the facility for their childcare programs, and some of the hurdles they face, and how Assembly Member Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) is lobbying for grants for the project.
“I’ll tell you what,” he told the city, school district and YWCA officials. “I’ll split the cost with Barb.”
What, exactly, does that mean? Frankly, even Heastie’s staff wasn’t sure. But it was good enough news for Kelly Tobin, executive director of the YWCA.
“Can I hug you?” she asked Heastie (D-Bronx). And did.
“We were not expecting this in the least,” Tobin said later. “Whatever it is, it’s great.”
The Cortland Enlarged City School District closed the 50,000-square-foot school in June as it consolidated five elementary schools into three buildings. Parker was chosen for closure in part because it would require several million dollars in improvements to continue.
The YWCA and CAPCO propose taking over the site and dividing its use:
- 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 had a waiting list of more than 100 children.
- The YWCA could merge two day- care programs, Learning Adventure on Huntington Street and Here We Grow on Homer Avenue, both in the city, to serve 108 children under one roof.
Cortland Christian Academy dropped out of a plan to join the consortium earlier this year.
The project would address a need for childcare in Cortland, Tobin said, adding that only about one-third of children are in certified childcare programs. “It’s not just one simple solution, or we would have done that, already,” she said.
The consolidation into one site wouldn’t immediately expand capacity, said Lindy Glennon, executive director of CAPCO — capacity for CAPCO’s early Head Start program is set by federal contract, for example. But it would allow the agencies to share services and programs, and the space would be available for future growth.
However, the consortium would need $460,000 in initial startup expenses, $166,000 in annual operating expenses, and $2 million in capital investment over the next 10 years, including work to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Some of that, Tobin said, would equip classrooms with sinks, individual exits and other facilities a child-care facility requires that a school does not.
The project is also hung up on ownership. If the city were to buy the property, it could do so for a nominal cost — $91. However, other entities would need to pay the fair market value. District Superintendent Michael Hoose told Heastie and Lifton he is trying to negotiate a solution.
So is Lifton, she said. “I’ve pledged to bring in SAM (State Aid to Municipalities) money,” she said Monday morning. “Cortland, as nice a community as it is, is struggling.”
While Lifton, her aides, and even Heastie’s aides weren’t sure what Heastie was committing to, Tobin read it as an offer to match whatever grants Lifton could secure. She was grateful for both.
“This will stabilize the landscape for our programs,” she said. “Whatever support Carl can bring is absolutely needed.”