Scotia

Schenectady County awards $1.5 million to Empire State Youth Orchestra

Empire State Youth Orchestra Executive Director Becky Calos, left, and Music Director Etienne Abelin outside the former St. Joseph Church Parish Center, the orchestra's new home in Scotia, back on April 1.
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Empire State Youth Orchestra Executive Director Becky Calos, left, and Music Director Etienne Abelin outside the former St. Joseph Church Parish Center, the orchestra's new home in Scotia, back on April 1.

SCOTIA — The Schenectady County Legislature on Tuesday voted to provide the Empire State Youth Orchestra a $1.5 million grant using federal coronavirus-relief funds for the purposes of converting the former St. Joseph Parish School into the region’s first youth musical center. 

The Empire State Youth Orchestra, or ESYO, purchased the 18,000-square-foot facility that sits on eight acres of land at 45 McArthur Drive earlier this year, with the goal of converting the former parish school into its permanent home. Currently the orchestra operates at various locations throughout the region.

“We’re really excited to build this music center in this space and make that happen for our youth, not only in Schenectady County, but bringing in youth from neighboring regions as well, to create a really collaborative music space,” said Becky Calos, ESYO’s executive director.

The organization, which is made up of 15 performing ensembles and puts on 30 public performances annually, provides a wide-range of musical lessons to hundreds of youth musicians throughout the Capital Region, as well as the Hudson Valley, Massachusetts and southern Vermont.

In addition, the organization partners with several community organizations, including Proctors Theatre and the Schenectady City School District, to host its CHIME program, a free after-school initiative that provides more than 100 K-12 students with free music lessons. The program was established in 2015 to address inequities in access to music-learning programs.

Funding received from the county will help cover the cost for the two-phase renovation project, which is expected to cost around $10 million.

Phase one of the project includes transforming the building’s gym into a state-of-the-art rehearsal space, removal of hazardous materials and the construction of administrative offices. The second phase includes a new HVAC system, as well as a 3,000-square-foot extension for a second rehearsal space, acoustic treatments and converting classrooms into music studios.

County lawmakers enthusiastically threw their support around the project on Tuesday, with several saying the $1.5 million investment is exactly what the county should be doing with funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act.

“I believe this is money well spent that will reap benefits and I hope that it starts this ambitious project on a way to a successful conclusion,” said Gary Hughes, the Legislature’s Democratic majority leader who represents portions of Schenectady.

The county received $30 million in ARPA funds, which, up to this point, has been used to recoup revenue lost during the early days of the pandemic, according to County Manager Rory Fluman.

But with the economy continuing to recover and sales tax and other revenues more in line with where they were prior to the pandemic, the county has been awarding ARPA funds for projects like the ESYO renovation.

Last month, lawmakers advanced a proposal to purchase the shuttered YMCA in Duanesburg for $1.8 million, with plans to donate the facility to the Duanesburg Central School District, which again hopes to turn the facility into a community hub. The county has yet to close on the facility as the district works to formulate a plan to operate the building without burdening taxpayers.

Fluman said programs like those offered by ESYO have traditionally been taught in schools, but noted that such programs have disappeared over the years as districts look to slash programs for the sake of reducing their budgets. The county, he added, has a long history of supporting the arts, including providing funding to Proctors Theatre.

“What they would be able to offer her is more higher level music theory, teaching of music — really a true expansion of arts and entertainment,” he said of the program. 

Justin Cook, an employee with ESYO, said the county’s investment will not only provide an artistic outlet for youth throughout the region, but will create a new economic opportunity for the county. 

“Schenectady is positioned very much to  be a hub of cultural institutions as well as an incubator for the arts,” he said. “This building will onboard more space dedicated to not only the performing arts, but specifically youth arts.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

Categories: News, News, Schenectady County, Scotia Glenville

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