Cortland Common Council Tables Action on Proposed Early Learning Center at Parker School

Parker School. (Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith/Cortland Voice).

The city of Cortland Common Council delayed taking action for two more weeks on the proposed Cortland Community Early Learning Center (CCELC) at the former Alton B. Parker Elementary School building at Tuesday’s meeting.

The council will vote on purchasing the property for the CCELC from the Cortland Enlarged City School District, as well as request proposals from contractors on the work that needs to be done to the property in order to transform it into a childhood education center. The CCELC would be operated by YWCA and the Cortland County Community Action Program (CAPCO). Both organizations provide day care services, and CAPCO operates Cortland’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Councilperson Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward), a city mayoral candidate in this year’s general election, said that he wanted to wait until the next meeting on Oct. 19. Tytler noted that he would like to see the whole council convene in order to vote on the item.

“I am in favor of this, but I would prefer we have the full council here before we have this vote,” Tytler said.

Councilperson Katy Silliman (D-2nd Ward) said while she is willing to postpone a vote on the matter for two more weeks, she does not want to see a vote on the proposed CCELC be delayed again.

“Regardless of whether we have a full council or not, in two weeks, I want to vote on it, because we have been missing people here and there for valid reasons,” Silliman said.

Cortland mayor Brian Tobin said the city’s administration has been clear and upfront about the discussions surrounding the project at city council meetings. 

“This has been an agenda item for three consecutive meetings. We have been upfront, we have discussed when this item is coming up for a vote. So this is not coming as a surprise,” Tobin said.

Tobin also commented on council members’ attendance during the last 17 meetings. 

“We have only had five where we have had full attendance,” he said. “And we had two where we had just a quorum. So I understand wanting to give people to be here and vote, but they have to be here and vote.”

Tobin noted that there will be a binding agreement between YWCA, CAPCO, and City of Cortland. 

“In terms of rent, we are limited in what we can charge. There is no intent for the city to turn this into a profit maker,” he said. “The intent for the city is that we’d be guiding and assisting the two nonprofits.” 

After some time of allowing for the organizations to become more financially stable, control of the property would be turned to YWCA and CAPCO. 

“We have an agreement that the two entities would be responsible for the care, maintenance and upkeep for the property, even while they are tenants,” Tobin said. “I know that’s different and puts a lot on those (organizations). However, you have two long standing (organizations) here that have done tremendous work.” 

During the meeting’s public hearing, city residents and business owners spoke on the need for the project.

“We have an inability to use all of our resources here due to a lack of childcare,” said Cortland County resident Sharon Stevans. “And thinking about my own career, if I were working now, I probably wouldn’t be able to keep my job given the absence of childcare. 

Stevans praised the Parker site as “perfect for that type of development.”

Johanna Ames, the president of Ames Linen Service in the city, highlighted the needs for childcare as an employer in the city.

“The lack of affordable childcare has a direct and negative impact on our community and the ability of the workforce to obtain and retain their jobs,” Ames said. “We all know that to advance and grow with a company or an employment opportunity one must be consistently present, and many workers worry about the availability of safe and reliable childcare. Some choose to exit the workforce because they cannot obtain such care in our community.”