A tale of two buildings: schools face differing futures after being shut down

Jul 18, 2013

When school districts consolidate or are faced with budget cuts, sometimes school buildings become a casualty of the process.

Students attending Remington Elementary School in Ilion said their final goodbyes in June, because the school is being shut down following the merger between the Ilion and Mohawk Central School Districts. Earlier this year, voters in the two towns approved the merger after two failed attempts at both a three and four-district merger in the region.

With consolidation taking place, schools in Ilion and Mohawk are being restructured to accommodate the district's students. But Remington Elementary was left as the odd one out... the one building that isn't needed. So now the question is what will be done with Remington?

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, of what's now called the Central Valley district, says the school building will serve a renewed purpose, thanks to the expansion of the state's BOCES program in Herkimer.

"It was really a source of pride for that part of town and we really didn't want it to turn into an apartment complex or a vacant building," Tangorra said. "We have a great partnership with the Herkimer BOCES and fortunately we are entering into a lease agreement with them, so it will be student occupied for at least the next five years."

BOCES will utilize the building for middle and high school level learning programs, with space set aside for adult education, as well.

"It was never a thought that it would be left empty," Tangorra said.

Upstate schools shut down due to restructuring, budget cuts or other issues have seen a variety of rebirths. In addition to transforming into other types of learning centers, some buildings have been renovated into senior and low-cost apartments, and on the other end of the housing spectrum, unique and upscale lofts. Among them include several schools throughout central and northern New York, like the renovated Henderson School Apartments in Jefferson County. The three-story school is now home to 24 one-bedroom units that cater to the needs of senior citizens.

In the Capital region town of Colonie, the former Maplewood Elementary School was closed in 2011 because of budget cuts. It was quickly leased out to Kids Express, which specializes in pre-school and kindergarten-aged education. The private school took over Maplewood Elementary that fall and continues to operate there.

Other school buildings have not been so lucky. In Utica, the Roosevelt Elementary School has remained unoccupied for two decades, after being closed by the Utica City School District. Though the building has drawn some interest from potential buyers, a permanent occupant has not been found. In recent years, it has served as a temporary training facility for the city's fire department. Up until a few years ago the building was considered salvageable, but as deterioration continues, it becomes more difficult to rehabilitate the property.

Brian Thomas, executive director of Utica's Urban Renewal Agency, says there aren't many options available for a building in this condition, though the city continues to wait for a buyer to come along.

"We're actively marketing the property, but it's going to take an infusion of cash to address the building, and ultimately either rehab it or demolish and build new."

Residents near the school have also spoken up about its future, creating petitions to get the building torn down.

"Neighbors have expressed concern with the impact that property has on their own property values, concerns about the condition of the building," Thomas said. "Unfortunately, the city just doesn't have a lot of funding to be able to address the building's needs at this point."

Thomas did point out several successful school building conversions in Utica, including the former St. Francis DeSales School, which closed, then reopened to house the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. Others were demolished and turned into single family homes or businesses.

Those successes are much more common than the current case with Roosevelt Elementary, and is something Tangorra, of the Central Valley District, says works. He says if educational groups, municipalities and community worked together, even fewer schools would be forced to stay shuttered.