By Jake Palmateer
MILFORD _ Construction on a $22.5 million expansion at Springbrook is slated to begin next month.
The initiative will change the face of the 77-acre campus off state Route 28 and is expected to create 112 jobs ranging from maintenance positions to teachers, according to the plans.
"This whole campus is going to be affected in one way or another," Springbrook Facilities Director Tom Ford said.
His comment came before a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday afternoon in a field that attracted more than 150 guests and 200 staff and students at the home and school for the developmentally disabled.
The school at Springbrook currently serves 76 children and will be renamed the Tom Golisano School at Springbrook in honor of the philanthropist who pledged $2.5 million for the project.
The expansion will include an autism school for 36 students, including 24 new children from New York state who are either in out-of-state facilities or at risk of leaving the state. New buildings or additions include three duplex-style homes, classrooms, a gymnasium, a kitchen and a cafeteria. Renovations will be done on much of the existing school. Bus stop, parking, driveway and sewer and water improvements are also included in the project, according to the plans.
"This didn't come about by any short-term thinking. It came about by a long vision," Springbrook Board of Directors President Jack Pitkin said in his remarks
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at the ceremony. "It's an exciting time in the life of Springbrook."
Staff and students clad in sky-blue T-shirts, some bearing Springbrook flags, then paraded through the audience to the Miley Cyrus song, "The Climb."
The project has its roots in a $2.5 million pledge by Buffalo Sabres owner and Paychex-founder B. Thomas Golisano four years ago, when he was an honoree for Springbrook's annual gala, Springbook CEO Patricia Kennedy said.
"We always knew this was the right project, at the right time, for all the right reasons," Kennedy said.
Katie Anderson, daughter of former Hartwick College Executive Vice President and Provost John Anderson, spoke on behalf of Golisano, her employer and family friend.
"It's very important to Tom he gives to something worthwhile," Anderson said. "Tom has a son with a disability."
State Sen. James L. Seward, R-Milford, and Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, were also at the ceremony.
Seward outlined the funding for the expansion, which includes a $16.7 million state grant announced earlier this year. There is a gap between the state grant and the money needed to complete the project, Seward said.
But the remainder is coming from the Golisano pledge and fundraising efforts by Springbrook.
"Tom Golisano has been a big part of filling that gap, and many of you have been a big part in filling that gap," Seward said.
Seward said once completed, the expansion will have an economic benefit of $5 million annually for the region. It will also save the state $900,000 annually because fewer students will need to be sent out of state for treatment, he said.
The expansion will also sustain or create many construction jobs during the building period, Seward said.
"It's important for our local economy, especially at a time when good news on our local economy is hard to come by," he said.
Lopez said he has two nephews with autism and understands the special needs the condition can require.
He applauded the efforts of Kennedy.
"Your director is fearless. She is a wonder. And she is also humble," Lopez said.
Springbrook student Jennifer Elwood, 19, won loud applause with her remarks on the expansion.
"It has brought hope that more kids will be accepted than pushed away," she said. "These kids deserve a bigger and more improved Springbrook."
Founded in 1925 as the Upstate Baptist Home, Springbrook, which has 850 workers, is the fifth largest employer in Otsego County. In addition to its Milford campus, the nonprofit organization offers a variety of programs for individuals and families and has 20 community homes in the region, as well as five community-based day programs.
Ken Stone, zoning officer for the town of Milford, said he has worked with Springbrook officials for three years on the expansion.
"This is a major project," Stone said.
Stone said neighbors had concerns with lighting, fencing and security, but all of the issues were resolved through the local approval process.
"These people are great to work with," Stone said. "Basically, everything the neighbors brought up were incorporated into the plans."