By Nathan Mayberg
LIBERTY May 11, 2004 Cornell will be working in Liberty at least another year, said Alan Gerry before he was bombarded by a tie-dye t-shirt and skateboard as a thank you from Liberty high school students and Cornell University at the Cablevision Industries building in Liberty on Saturday.
Gerry joked that he would be going skateboarding after he left.
Over 100 politicians and community leaders were on hand to hear some of the progress the students and faculty from Cornell University had made in the town since they arrived eight months ago including a skateboarding park.
They also heard from community leaders about what was still needed.
The University was hired by the Gerry Foundation.
Gerry said, Were excited to work with you [Cornell]. Were very thankful for what youve done.
But the humor continued.
I cant remember life before Sullivan County, joked Ken Reardon, one of the coordinators of the project and a professor at Cornell University.
Reardon painted a picture of a town that had fallen on dire times, like virtually all of upstate New York. The difference in Liberty, he thought, was the dedication of community leaders and groups leaders like Maurice Gerry, who he said has been doing so many beautification projects in Ferndale that the area could be renamed Maurices Mountain.
One of the centerpieces of the revitalization could come from the Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center, which Reardon compared to the famous Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts.
Cornell University President Jeffrey Lehman thanked Gerry and others. A former visitor to Grossingers Hotel as a college student, he declared the era of the great resorts passed for this county. Lehman thought that Sullivan County has turned the corner, however.
Liberty School District Supt. Lawrence Clarke spoke of grimmer times. Neither the school, the village nor the town were offering enough activities for young adults, he said.
The countys teen pregnancy rate is the highest of any county outside New York City. Arrest rates for drug possession and DWI all surpassed the state averaged. Minors accounted for about 5 percent of all pregnancies in Liberty, said Clarke.
On a positive note, the Cornell groups greatest achievement so far appears to have been the progress towards a skate and bike park. After eight months of planning, Cornell succeeded in forming a team of high school students who have worked to get the park going. The project is expected to cost $90,000, and the group is asking the Village and Town of Liberty to pick up two-thirds of the cost.
Walter Stein, director of the Community Action Commission to Help the Economy (CACHE) in Liberty, called for more affordable housing. Fifty-six percent of the residents in Liberty rent homes, he said. The high tax rate in the Village of Liberty makes ownership of homes unattainable for many, Stein stated.
But Jonathan Drapkin, executive director for the Gerry Foundation, said, Its incredible how far we have come in the last eight months.
Drapkin said he was most excited about the youth participation. He called it quite unusual and quite gratifying to see young students working side by side with adults.