AMSTERDAM -- The Greater Amsterdam School District recently sold the former Clara S. Bacon Elementary School to the Whispering Pines Preschoo for $224,000.
The real estate closing comes after voters in the school district on Nov. 19 approved selling the building and its surrounding 20.4-acre parcel for no less than $224,000. Voters approved the sale 201-41.
Whispering Pines has been operating a special education preschool for children under 5 at the location for the last 10 years. The current 220 students there have special needs and come from as many as 40 different school districts, receiving services such as physical therapy, speech therapy, social work and occupational therapy from a staff of about 111 people, many of them certified teachers.
The real estate closing was between the GASD and Thousand Acres Associates, the real estate arm of the Whispering Pines Preschool nonprofit.
School board President Nellie Bush said it was important to the board to keep the school as a learning facility. Bush said she has a personal history with the building, having taught second grade there for about five years, and then special education, when the school district was still operating it as an elementary school. She said she believes the building may have been the first ever built in New York state using a circular style construction.
"It was a wonderful school for children, and it was uniquely built in the sense of having a circular formation with an amphitheater in the center, and we're glad that building will continue to service the educational needs of children," Bush said.
The district was also interested in selling the building because of the potential cost of maintenance at the facility, including replacing its roof.
One of the things that made the sale possible was a $190,000 state grant Whispering Pines received in December.
Amy Frank, director of the Whispering Pines program at the Bacon School, said her organization had the financing in place to purchase the building before receiving the grant, but the state money was the key to finalizing the deal. She said the $190,000 will help begin a multi-year plan to upgrade the building that could cost as much as $1 million total. The non-profit 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.
"That helped us tremendously," she said. She said a roofer was coming to repair a "good portion of the roof of the newest part of the building, where the most substantial leaks are, so we're very happy to quickly more forward with that."
Frank said another item on the agenda is upgrading the security at the facility.
She said a security company was coming to review the property to make sure to make the doors are secure enough and have an improved entry system for staff, she said.
"So those are the two big ticket items: fixing the roof and making the building more secure. There are a lot of indoor repairs that are needed, but until we get the roof fixed, we aren't going to move forward with too many of those interior items. We're going to have to move slowly, we're hoping that not all of the $190,000 goes to the roof."
Frank said Whispering Pines has grown steadily in students during its 10 years of operation in Amsterdam, and will now be able to grow more thanks to having use of every room in the building. The school's lease from GASD did not include every room at the school.
Frank said the need for the intervention therapies Whispering Pines offers continues to grow locally and throughout the region. "We've already expanded quite substantially. We're in every room in the upstairs portion of the building," she said. "We are opening an additional classroom that we are hoping to open within the next couple of months, although I don't see us getting any bigger than the building will allow us to get. We aren't planning on any add-ons or anything like that."
She said the opening of at least one more classroom could increase the student population by 10 to 16 students and four additional staff.
Whispering Pines also has a long-term goal of adding more fenced-in playground space so students may run around and play in a contained area. Frank also anticipates they will do some landscaping and aesthetic improvements to the exterior of the building.