October 21, 2021

Parker task force pushes for vote on school

Cortland Standard file photo

Parker Elementary School in Cortland. File photo.

Proponents of converting the former Parker elementary school into a day care space are making a big final push to persuade voters to approve the sale of the building to the city of Cortland.

This plan entails the city buying the school for a symbolic $91 — one dollar for every year the school was in operation — so the building can be used as an early childhood learning center by the YWCA Cortland and CAPCO. The Cortland Common
Council and the Cortland Enlarged Area School District Board have already voted for preliminary approval of the sale.

However, voters in the Cortland Enlarged City School District also have to weigh in on the matter.

Monday night, 10 members of the Parker school task force met at the Kaufman Center to discuss strategy on a final advertising blitz to get the word out about the referendum.

Task force members said word of the referendum still had not reached many potential voters.

Janet Griffin, president of the school board, said she had already had two people knock on her front door, asking her about her yard signs regarding the Parker school vote. Neither person knew what the sign meant, she said.

Cortland County Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland), who also sits on the task force, said she had been asked, “Who is Parker?”

The timeline

  • March 17 — The last day for eligible school district voters to register for the referendum.
  • March 24 — The city school board will have a public hearing regarding the referendum to sell the school at 6:30 p.m. at the Kaufman Center.
  • March 30 — Applications for absentee ballots must be received by the county clerk no later than 5 p.m., or no later than 4 p.m. March 24 if the ballot must be mailed.
  • March 31 — The proposition goes up for referendum noon to 9 p.m. at the Kaufman Center at 1 Valley View Drive.

The task force plans to distribute fliers and sticky-note advertisements door-to-door through the school district on March 28 and 29. The task force is also posting information about the referendum on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/voteyesparker as well as advertising in local news media and distributing lawn signs.

Not everyone, however, is in favor of the proposal, such as resident Anne Doyle, who said she will vote against the sale.

“I want the school to be open,” Doyle said. “I don’t understand why they closed it.”

The city has already been allocated $500,000 from Empire State Development for the project.

Grants of this type, however, are paid after a project is completed, which the city, on its application,estimated would cost about $4 million. City officials previously said the project would require $2 million in capital expenses over 10 years, as well as $460,000 in start-up expenses and $166,000 in annual operating costs.

A memo prepared for the Common Council by Mack Cook, the city’s director of administration and finance, estimated the building would require as much as $290,621 in annual debt service to “the building owner” — that is, the city. The memo also outlines other potential expenses, such as a diesel tank that may
still be buried on the property, as well as abatement of vinyl asbestos tile.

The $4 million estimate included every possible cost associated with the project, Tobin said.

Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin is working with state officials to break up the $500,000 grant into stages, so the city would receive a portion of the total grant — $200,000 — after completing $1 million of the project. Tobin said the project would require $1 million to make the building ready for the YWCA and CAPCO. He said he hopes the building will be open for use this summer.

YWCA and CAPCO recently received $629,889 in state funds to train employees and “stabilize and expand the early learning (birth-5 years) care system” — programs that would be housed in the Parker School if that project comes together, Kelly Tobin, executive director of YWCA Cortland, has said. She and Brian Tobin are married.