Cortland City Council Approves Purchase of Former Parker School

The city of Cortland Common Council approved the purchasing of the former Alton B. Parker Elementary School building at Tuesday’s meeting by a vote of 6-2 for $91.

The decision caps off a years-long saga that childcare providers in the city hope could eventually culminate in the opening of an early education center.

The approved purchasing agreement would get the YWCA and Cortland County Community Action Program (CAPCO) closer to their proposed Cortland Community Early Learning Center (CCELC) project. The CCLEC would help consolidate childcare services under the former Parker School’s roof, serving children up to the age of five. Both organizations currently provide daycare services, and CAPCO operates Cortland’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

The project has enjoyed significant support from educators living in the city, Cortland’s business community, city mayor Brian Tobin, and some city council members.

“This would be another partnership for the city and this is the kind of thing we need to do to move forward. I would not want the city itself to take on childcare, we want experts in the field,” Tobin said. “Between Early Head Start and the childcare programs they provide, we have two outstanding agencies that have done a tremendous job with childcare in our community.”

There has been some hesitancy to approve the project from some council members who have expressed a need for more financial certainty surrounding the project’s cost. Council members John Bennett (D-4th Ward) and Troy Beckwith (D-7th Ward) voted against approving the purchase of the building.

Council member Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) said the project still had some financial grey areas.

“I will feel more comfortable once we look at the architect’s plan to see how the costs are going to play out,” he said. “I think there are a lot of hidden costs that are gonna come forward that we’re missing. There are air quality issues that have to be addressed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the classroom size. That is something that came into play last year. In my mind there are some issues that have not been addressed.”

Council member Katy Silliman (D-2nd Ward), a local educator, said the city will have control over future decisions regarding the project.

“While I respect that there are those who have their doubts, I don’t think we are going to be able to nail down every single thing,” Silliman said. “And I think we have enough information to move forward. I would like to remind everyone on the council and future council members that we will be approving every step of this project and will have a lot of control over it.”

Siliman also spoke on the potential for the project to be beneficial for families and students alike.

“If you don’t have a basis for understanding (the core curriculum during early grades), you can very rapidly get lost as a little kid,” Silliman said. “Families also rely on the public education system to educate their children. There aren’t as many parents who are able to sit down with their kids and teach them these preliminary things.”

Tobin said the building’s renovation project has been broken down into five phases. It is based on an assessment conducted by an architect last year. The total price tag was estimated at approximately $3.5 million. Tobin admitted it will be higher in future assessments based on a rise in material costs.

The city would need approximately $1.1 million to retrofit the classrooms, renovate the playground and upgrade outdoor safety. This would allow the facility to open its doors, Tobin said.

“With some light work, CAPCO could occupy a portion of the building quickly,” Tobin said in a statement issued earlier this month, noting the city is aiming for full occupancy in September of next year. “For the YWCA and some of CAPCO’s classes, we would need to complete phases one through three for full occupancy.”

At previous meetings, Tobin said the city also has at least $1.3 million in its coffers to continue aiding renovations. 

Former Democratic assemblywoman Barbara Lifton secured $1.1 million of those funds, while the city also received $200,000 from a grant from the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council. 

The council also approved a resolution that would allow the city to put out a request for proposals from architects to assess what it would cost for the project to move forward. Tobin said the city would use $180,000 from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation of federal funds to hire the contractors with the most competitive bid.

Here is a video of yesterday's Cortland City Council's agreement to purchase Parker School (Start at 0:47:40):