OTEGO – Frances M. “Fran” Niles, 83, who worked 20 years at Otego Elementary School, passed away peacefully on March 7, 2020 at Fox Nursing Home in Oneonta.
She was born Oct. 21, 1936, the daughter of James and Helen (Sweeney) Mauro. Fran was born and raised in Brooklyn. She worked for many years in New York City. While working at KLM Dutch Airlines, which afforded her the opportunity to travel around the world, she met Francis K. “Frank” Niles.
They married on June 24, 1972 in Queens Village. After moving to Franklin Square, Fran became very involved in the PTA, while her children attended Polk Street Elementary School.
ONEONTA – The cafeteria at Oneonta Christian Academy is also a locker room and study hall.
“We don’t have enough classrooms for each grade level,” says OCA Administrator Chris Cleveland.
The school has 97 students, and Cleveland expects that number to grow. “We are only limited by our size. 100 is our max and we’re getting pretty close.”
In part, that because “a lot of kids are getting bullied,” according to Elizabeth Cook, the school’s director of programming and 12th-grade English teacher. “We do not tolerate bullying at all.”
So “their parents seek an alternative,” she continued. “Because we’re smaller, because we’re quieter, there’s less chaos. We are a Christian education, but we are a strong education … We are a family environment.”
On Nov. 4, a door opened.
Competing with three bidders, the OCA was awarded the former Otego Elementary School by the Unatego Central school board.
So far, the OCA hasn’t had to turn anyone away. “But much longer and we probably would have to.”
The Oneonta Christian Academy formed last year out of a merger of the Oneonta Community Christian School and Lighthouse Christian Academy. It occupies 9,000 square feet in the former Christian School building at 158 River St.; Otego Elementary has 34,000 square feet.
Previously, the current building was an auto body shop, BOCES, Headstart and an electrical appliance store.
One thing is certain however, it’s not big enough for the growing academy.
Space may be tight as is, but no one can say it hasn’t been maximized. Two grades can share one room, and the cafeteria doubles as a locker room and triples as a study hall. If it rains or it’s too cold to go outside, pupils stay in their rooms for recess.
“It’s a lot of juggling for the teachers,” said Cleveland, although it’s not a new practice. “We’ve done it for years,” he said.
Oftentimes, one grade will be given a written assignment while the other completes a group activity. “The multi-levels are challenging…you have to keep both levels occupied at the same time,” says Sue Rae, who taught at the school for 17 years and now substitutes in two-grade classrooms like kindergarten and First.
Although she values the cross-level learning that takes place in such a small space, she looks forward to the size of the new building and the possibilities that come with it.
“We could have separated areas, but we’re a little bit close together,” she said. “I would like to see a small divider, a noise divider.”
Assessing Otego Elementary, she said “the library and gymnasium are very big pluses.”
Amy Kropp, a Spanish teacher at OCA, looks forward to the additional space as well. With 10 students studying Spanish in a small classroom, “I’m maxed out with this class right here,” she said.
For gym, OCA students often go down River Street to the Oneonta Boys & Girls Club.
“We lose 10-15 minutes from every class to allow time for travel,” said Cleveland. Added Kropp, “The idea of having more time in gym class and a stage will be a blessing.”
Recently, K-12 students took a trip to Otego to tour their new school and were excited by what they saw. “I went to the school before,” said ninth-grader Gabriel Cutting, who attended Otego Elementary before it was closed. “I think everyone will get lost,” he said.
Other kids expressed excitement for the new facilities and additional space. “I love the playground, it was great!” said Alyvia Miller, 14.
“We can have more special activities,” said Noelle Mulick.
Since Otego Elementary has only been closed a year, only a little work is needed, and the OCA is planning to use the building as soon as December for its annual Christmas Celebration. Plans are to start classes there next September.
“I was on my knees praying it would happen,” said OCA receptionist Charles Lapp. “It’s an exciting movement. We’ve gone from a church, to a building, to a school.”
OTEGO – The Oneonta Christian Academy is running out of room.
“We are only limited by our size,” Elizabeth Cook, director of programming and 12th-grade English teacher, told the Unatego Central School Board Monday, Oct. 28.
The OCA was one of three bidders trying to convince the school board to sell them the Otego Elementary School, which it closed in the summer of 2018.
Dirig Design of Wells Bridge, a development firm, and Granite Data Solutions, a high-tech company from California that seeks to hire disabled veterans, are the other two bidders.
The Unatego school board is planning a public meeting Nov. 4 to announce the winning bid.
“We don’t even have a gym,” Cook said. “The entire school tears down every classroom to do an event; every single kid puts their hands on every desk and every chair in order to make the space do what we need it to – and it’s exhausting.”
Last year alone, the school saw a 13 percent increase in enrollment, reaching a five-year high of 92 students.
The academy, now at 158 River St., Oneonta, has a vision of a larger school and what it would mean for their current students, as well as any future attendees, Cook said.
The former 34,000-square-foot Otego School on Route 7 in the middle of the village is big enough for that vision. “We will only use about two-thirds of the building,” says Cook, offering the rest as rental space for local businesses, as well as an affordable event space for community members.
In the future, the idea is to develop early education programs that would benefit Otego families.
In his presentation, Adam Dirig, CEO of Dirig Design, said he has a seven-year plan to develop a mixed-use Otego Commons – nine apartments, 16 offices and community space, including updates to the gymnasium, hallways, and bathrooms.
School board member Kenneth Olson expressed concern: “Sixteen office spaces is aggressive for an area like ours.” But Dirig expressed confidence in the concept.
He also expressed his enthusiasm about the future of the building, calling it “a good symbol of the community – I don’t want it to go to waste.”
“There’s a need in Otego for apartments,” adding Dirig project manager Dan Dahlstrom. “There are also a lot of businesses in Oneonta that don’t need a Main Street location.”
Granite Data President Brigg Goodwin described his plan to develop the school into a full-service New York/East Coast sales and logistics branch of the company.
Goodwin, who grew up in a small town of 3,500 in Iowa, relates to Otego’s circumstances and believes that his company’s proposal will help revitalize the area.
“It makes such a huge impact on small communities, to be able to bring in jobs like that,” he says. “Altruism is dying with the information age, we don’t rely on each other as much and, call me old-fashioned, I like altruism, I like people who jump in and help out.”
His company’s proposal hopes to focus hiring efforts on local veterans first. “If there’s an Otego resident who’s a veteran and an Otego resident who’s a non-veteran, we’ll lean towards the veteran,” he says.
OTEGO – Three new plans for the former Otego Elementary School building, including one from the Oneonta Christian Academy, will be presented to the Unatego Central school board at a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28.
The entire board will hear the presentations, ask questions, and then make a decision at a Nov. 4 meeting on which proposal to accept.
Unatego Central school board member Dick Downey was one of two board members to vote tonight against AgZeit’s proposal to redevelop the Otego Elementary School building into an indoor produce-growing enterprise. The board narrowed the building’s fate from four to two proposals: one from AgZeit, which intend to create an indoor farming facility; and The Kildonan School, which hoped to open a secondary school for students with Dyslexia. The board opted for AgZeit’s proposal, voting 4-2 in favor of the Endicott-based company. (Parker Fish/AllOTSEGO.com)
OTEGO – At its first public meeting since the June 30 deadline for RFPs, the Unatego Central school board last night agreed in front of a packed crowd to hold a public hearing on three perspective buyers for the former Otego Elementary School building at 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 30.
The school board may choose a buyer that evening.
Each applicant will be given 15 minutes to discuss their plans for the building. Each presentation will be followed by 15 minutes of questions from the public before voting.
After initially sending out a request for proposals, the board received three proposals for the building from:
OTEGO – The Kildonan School, known nationally for educating dyslexic children at its Dutchess County campus, announced today it is about to submit a proposal to buy the former Otego Elementary School.
A team from Kildonan toured the school on June 7.
At first, the facility would employ 25 people, with a total estimated payroll of over $1.2 million.
Based in Amenia, Kilonan is partnering with SUNY Oneonta’s Leatherstocking Dyslexia Center to buy the building and its contents.
Attendance would be free for eligible students, who would receive same resources Kildonan’s private boarding and day program offers for $70,000 a year.