Area Districts Find Several Uses For Closed School Buildings

The classrooms are empty, and the hallways are silent – but that doesn’t mean they will be for long.

Area school districts in possession of buildings that no longer house classrooms are weighing options on how to put them to use.

In Jamestown, the former Rogers Elementary School building has been dormant since the conclusion of the 2011-12 school year. According to Deke Kathman, former Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, the building has since served as a storage facility for the district.

“I can tell you that we’re using (the building) exactly as we had predicted,” said Kathman last month. “We are maintaining the building outside as it was, and inside we have a variety of maintenance and school-related supplies being stored there – (such as) paper towels, student desks, teacher desks and high school musical items.”

Kathman also said the district has cooperated with the Jamestown Police Department in allowing JPD to perform a practice drill on the former school property.

When the 2012-13 school year wrapped up, three other districts-Ripley, Cassadaga Valley and Salamanca-were forced to consider alternative options for their now-vacant elementary and high school buildings.

Despite a lawsuit against the district for its decision to send its seventh- through 12th-grade students to Chautauqua Lake Central School in the coming year, Ripley is still moving ahead with its plans after a ruling from state Education Department commissioner John King that the districts may proceed with the agreement until a final verdict is reached. A final decision on the appeal is not expected for at least five months, and it could be considerably longer before it is issued. As a result, the district’s high school building will be largely unoccupied.

According to Ripley superintendent Karen Krause, the district is taking a two-fold approach in maintaining the building as a resource for both the district and the community.

“The biggest part of utilizing the empty space that’s going to be created without high school (classes) is working with the town for relocating town offices,” she said. “There is nothing finalized yet, but we’ve been working on negotiations to finalize a property lease agreement. I’m very optimistic that we’ll maybe have an agreement by the end of August or, more realistically, by September.”

Krause said Ripley’s Board of Education acted on an option to lease space to the town of Ripley at its most recent meeting. Town officials will meet Sept. 12, and are expected to respond to the district following the meeting.

In terms of a definitive timeframe for when the town could conceivably begin occupation of the high school building, Krause said the town is tentatively looking at sometime in November, after they are done issuing hunting licenses. Krause confirmed the space designated for town offices would be on the side facing North State Street, which would require students to utilize the Ross Street entrance.

Additionally, Krause said the district will be relocating some of its pre-K to grade 6 classrooms into the high school, continuing to utilize some of the space for educational purposes.

Meanwhile, Cassadaga Valley bid farewell to its elementary school in Cassadaga in June.

According to the district’s superintendent secretary, the district is now considering its options for the building; whether to keep it for the district, lease it out, rent it or sell it. She said a committee has been formed to find uses for the building, and explore opportunities for members of the public to use it.

While the Cassadaga Valley district currently remains strictly in the deliberation phase, the Board of Education has approved a motion to contract the services of a local appraiser in order to get an idea of the property’s assessed value.

In Salamanca, negotiations between the Salamanca City School District and the Seneca Nation have been progressing toward the district’s sale of its recently closed Seneca Elementary School building. Robert Breidenstein, Salamanca district superintendent, said the discussions with the Seneca Nation are running on “parallel pathways.”

“(Seneca Elementary) is an E-rated building, meaning it’s in use for primarily education purposes,” Breidenstein said. “In June, the (Seneca) Nation had a presentation on their intended use of the property, and one of the primary avenues they were going to use it for was the expansion of their education department. So, obviously a surplus school building fits into that mindset. It’s a good repurposing of a wonderful building that’s been exceptionally well maintained and upgraded over the past 10 years.”

Breidenstein said Salamanca’s Board of Education made the decision to close Salamanca Elementary and reconfigure its grade levels early in the spring. He said the district was first approached formally by the Seneca Nation in February.

“It was an aggressive timeline,” he said. “This (process) has moved excessively quickly.”

Breidenstein reported the closing of Seneca Elementary will result in an estimated annual savings amount of between $125,000 and $140,000 in operating costs for the district.