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Though slated to be closed as an elementary school at the end of this school year, it looks like the Cornelius Duggan School in White Lake will find other uses.

Bethel moving toward leasing Duggan School

By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE — May 11, 2010 — The Town of Bethel may lease the Duggan Elementary School once it’s closed this summer.
Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm and Monticello Central Schools Supt. Pat Michel confirmed that they’ve hammered out a tentative lease agreement for their boards to review and approve/reject.
Bethel’s town board, said Sturm, could act on it as soon as tomorrow night’s regular meeting.
“This is really ideal for the Town of Bethel,” he remarked. “... It’s going to allow the town to consolidate our services.”
“It will save them an enormous amount of money,” agreed Michel, adding, “It will allow the community access to the school, and I think that’s great.”
If approved by both boards, the township will lease a 3,600-square-foot wing of the school after the district closes it at the end of June. The building, considered the focal point of the community, was scheduled for closure after a series of painful budget meetings where passionate arguments were made for and against its shuttering.
While not a reopening of the school itself, this lease, said Sturm and Michel, will preserve it as a community gathering place.
“We didn’t want to just shut the building down,” Michel explained.
The lease tentatively calls for $1,250 a month for five years. Utilities are included, with the town lowering some of its sewer/water rents as part of that, said Michel. In return, the town gets full use of the wing, which was built in 1989 and has separate entrances from the older areas of the school.
Bethel would handle cleaning duties, while Monticello would be responsible for maintenance and repairs, Sturm explained.
Over the course of a few weeks in July and August, Sturm hopes to renovate the interior’s 4.5 classrooms, each offering about 850 square feet of space.
One room will hold the Literacy Center, a satellite of the Monticello-based Literacy Volunteers of America, which offers free literacy tutoring and other services.
Literacy Volunteers Executive Director Connie Keller said the room would allow the center to provide three tutoring spaces, two computers and a small bookstore, initially open two-three days a week.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity,” she remarked.
Another room will be occupied by the town’s Youth Center. Its youth program, said Sturm, already utilizes the school’s playground, gym and auditorium.
The third classroom will become the new meeting hall for the town board, planning board and zoning board, he explained, and it will be open for other groups to use, as well.
The school is located behind the town hall in White Lake but offers far more parking and meeting space.
The rest of the wing, said Sturm, will be converted into the town’s Justice Court, which will be moved from its current location in Kauneonga Lake. It will feature its own secure entrance area, he added, ensuring its business is kept apart from the other town functions, especially the Youth Center.
Sturm envisions the current courthouse becoming another business in Kauneonga Lake’s increasingly vibrant downtown.
“We’ll rent it, sell it or lease it, depending on the economy,” he remarked.
The nearby Senior Center, where the town has been holding its board meetings, will remain in use, said Sturm.
And the modular building slated to be erected between the Senior Center and the Justice Court could still happen, even though it was planned to house the youth and literacy centers.
The town submitted a grant application to the federal government in April, Sturm explained, seeking $400,000 for the project.
Though he and Keller consider the prospects of a grant award to be 50-50, they acknowledged that its awarding would require the youth and literacy centers to locate in the modular.
The outcome of the highly competitive grant process won’t be known until later this year, meaning the two centers could already be up and running in the Duggan School.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” assessed Sturm. “In my opinion, that would be a good problem to have!”
Regardless, he said the Duggan lease promises to save the town a significant amount of money.
For example, the courthouse’s current utilities bill is $7,000 a year, thousands of dollars higher than the expected Duggan lease payment.
And the Literacy Center, he added, has agreed to host at least one annual fundraiser to cover its costs.
The school board will review and vote on the lease either at its May or June meeting, said Michel.
“They are very, very open to the idea,” he remarked. “In principle, I think we’re in a good place.”
He added that the district is in talks with a variety of other groups to rent the remaining space at Duggan. Though he declined to name names due to the early stage of discussions, he said any additional rentals would be for uses compatible with the township’s.
Michel even went so far as to say that if long-range predictions of student population increases hold true, Duggan may one day reopen as a school – thus the reason for leasing instead of selling.
In the meantime, Sturm thanked Michel and the school board for working with the town to ensure a future for Duggan.
“To allow the building to remain in community hands is vital to us,” he said. “... I believe it will be unanimous to pass this at our next town board meeting.”

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