By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
CHERRY VALLEY – A high point for Richard Saba was the teen café, where up to 130 young people would gather at the old Cherry Valley High School to create art and play music.
“It expanded their cultural landscape,” said Saba, himself a noted artist, who has been involved in reinventing the 1913 former central school here since he helped co-found Cherry Valley Community Facilities Corp. for that purpose in 1992.
A number of the young café-goers became musicians and artists, a source of pride for Saba, currently CVCFC president.
First, the CVCFC attracted the Post Office, which has occupied the first floor of the main building, fronting on Genesee Street, for a quarter-century. Since, tenants and concepts have come and gone – today, town and village offices are located there, and exercise space in the old high school gym.
Soon, tenants age 62 and up will occupy 10 rent-subsidized units – four one-bedroom; six efficiencies – in the 1957 annex, renamed the Alden Park Apartments.
Rents range from $560 to $675, adjusted depending on an applicant’s income.
“They’re below market rate,” said Timothy Peters, executive director of Otsego Rural Housing Assistance (ORHA), the project’s developer since 2016.
What was old is now new, as the former classrooms – and, for a decade, the Little Lambs Daycare Center – have been smartly outfitted with up-to-date kitchens and bathrooms, wall-to-wall carpet and vertical blinds that open up on woodland views or fields and hills.
Everything’s bright, from the newly installed wood floors leading from the entry hall – yes, that blackboard dates back to school days – to the washers and dryers in the laundry room at the far end, Saba and Peters pointed out during a tour of the site the other day.
The old school also hosts the senior meal site: How convenient is that?
At the outset, the idea was championed by ORHA board secretary Susan Miller of Cherry Valley, and Tony Scalici, Tim’s predecessor, but many steps have been taken in the past five years.
Jim Jordan, the Richfield Springs architect, conducted a feasibility study, funded by a $19,000 New York State Main Street grant obtained by ORHA. (His dad, Myron A. Jordan, designed the annex, as well as Richfield Springs and Schenevus’ Andrew S. Draper central schools, and many others.)
The breakthrough was a construction grant – $1,483,102 (Peters knows the number by heart) – from the state’s Small Rental Development Initiative, with retired state Sen. Jim Seward’s support.
Murnane Construction’s Utica office began construction about a year ago, “and they’ve done a great job overall,” said Peters, “even in the pandemic.”
With local hires, too, including Mike Domion of Richfield Springs, the lead carpenter.
Because of the government grants, Tim can tell a few horror stories. One regulation required ORHA to map every propane tank within five miles.
Since the annex is more than 50 years old, it fell under SHPO, the state Historic Preservation Office, which prohibited the main hallway from being narrowed to allow larger apartments, or the windows to be reduced in size.
The housing also falls under the U.S. Fair Housing Act, which requires ORHA to advertise in Hispanic and black publications in Utica and Syracuse, to ensure minority communities are aware of the project.
Applications – now available at otsegoruralhousing.org and onsite in the town and village offices – will be reviewed, first come, first serve, so Peters encourages local people interested in the housing to submit applications now.
The rehab, it must seem to Richard Saba, is never done.
The upper floors of the main building – ideal for market-rate apartments – would require an elevator that opens as both ends to provide handicapped access, an obstacle not yet overcome.
And he fondly remembers an early project: a collaboration with CV-S School Superintendent Mike Marcelli and ONC BOCES Superintendent John Mills to install a regional School for the Arts in the 1913 Arts & Crafts style front building – “a fine example,” said Historic Preservationist Jessie Ravage.
He remembers outlining the project at the state Education Department in Albany. “They love the idea,” he said, and offered $1.6 million to make the idea happen.
“Then Pataki was elected,” Saba said, “and he froze all BOCES funding.”
Like Sisyphus, Saba will continue to push this boulder uphill.