AMSTERDAM — Whispering Pines Preschool is poised to purchase the former Clara S. Bacon Elementary School from the Greater Amsterdam School District for $224,000, pending voter approval.
Amsterdam School Board President Nellie Bush said the district has decided to sell the building because it no longer has a use for it.
“We did not want to continue to maintain a building that we were not going to use,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Bush said other ideas have been suggested for the building, which has a unique circular-style construction, but “none of them ever came to fruition.”
Some of the other ideas have included a failed attempt to sell the location to a Buddhist group in 2010 for $450,000. Another idea was to convert it into a city recreation center, but the city of Amsterdam’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant is looking at a different location for that idea, adjacent to Centro Civico of Amsterdam.
Bush said a voter proposition to approve the sale likely won’t be put up until after the May school budget vote.
“Until it’s all said and done, I’m cautiously optimistic. The public has to vote on it,” she said.
Bush said the district has been leasing the location to Whispering Pines for the last 10 years, but was still required to plow its driveways and sidewalks and there were expensive repairs on the horizon for the building that would be more costly for a school district than for Whispering Pines, which is a state-approved 4410 special education program school.
“When you’re a school district you have to go through specific specifications with the state Education Department, you can’t just go out and hire a construction company or a roofing company,” she said.
Martha Frank, executive director of Whispering Pines Preschool, said her organization, which also has locations in Fulton and Schoharie counties, usually prefers to lease its buildings, but in this case it felt it needed to finance the purchase of the Clara S. Bacon Elementary School in order to maintain the school, which serves 210 pupils, most of them placed at the school from home school districts in Montgomery, Fulton and Schenectady counties.
“[GASD] told us that the current lease that we’re in, which ends on August 31 of this year, that they would not be doing any additional leasing of the building — that they wanted to sell the building. It certainly made us pay attention to what direction we wanted to go in. The building is an ideal spot for preschool children,” she said. “My preference might have been to continue to lease the building, but our desire to continue to use the space as a preschool and early intervention program, sort of pushed us in the other direction.”
Frank said Whispering Pines provides toddler early-intervention programs for children with special needs, as well as preschool programs for children with autism and other conditions. The school also contracts to provide pre-kindergarten classes for a lottery-selected group of children from the Greater Amsterdam School District.
All of the students at Whispering Pines are younger than 5 years old, and the special needs students, who come from as many as 40 different school districts, receive services such as physical therapy, speech therapy, social work and occupational therapy from a staff of about 80 people, many of them certified teachers.
“We couldn’t just move these classrooms anywhere in the Capital Region because the state Education Department wants the program to be located where there’s a need for the services to be delivered and our classrooms are always, always full fairly early in the year, so clearly this is a need for this service,” she said.
Frank said that nearly all of her agency’s funding is derived from county governments, which pay per pupil based on a formula, that has a Medicaid component, and is 60 percent reimbursed by the state.
She said the decision to purchase the building required support from TD Bank, which has agreed to approve a mortgage that will be larger than the purchase price so that Whispering Pines can repair part of the building’s roof, its two air conditioning units as well as carperting and some other cosmetic changes.
“We’ve been in the building for ten years, we know what needs to be fixed with it,” she said.
Part of the decision to purchase the building was also motivated by Whispering Pines having recently financed a $70,000 playground upgrade at the school, which may now be expanded, she said.
Whispering Pines uses about 80 percent of the space at the school now, but after the purchase will have access to two more school rooms, one of which it may use for an additional classroom for children with autism.
The city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department currently runs a youth basketball program out of the gymnasium at Bacon, which Frank said she believes will continue. She said she also hopes the city will continue to maintain the ball fields at the 20-acre location, which it also uses.
Frank said Whispering Pines is now doing a title search of the property to determine its property line. She said the city owns portions of its parking lot. She said access to the adjacent Sassafrass Park and nature preserve will not be changed for the public.
Frank said Whispering Pines has no further plans to develop any of the land on the property. She said the building is an excellent fit for their program.
“For a preschool, it’s really the perfect building for little kids like this,” she said.
Bush said she believes the Clara S. Bacon Elementary School was the first to be built using the circular style construction. She said she taught second grade at the building for about five years, and then special education. She said she’s glad it will remain a school for children.
“That school was a wonderful, wonderful, elementary school,” she said. “It’s a circular school. It’s a school in the round. There’s an inner core with inner offices. The classrooms are all around the periphery of the building, so all of the classrooms have a view of the outside, plus they have an entrance to the inner core. It’s really a really, really unique school, and in the center of the school there’s a very round amphitheater, with steps and stairs so the children can sit on the stairs when we had programs. It’s really a wonderful school.”