Unatego board hears pitches for closed elementary school

Allison Collins Adam Dirig, founder of Dirig Designs, fields questions from Unatego Board of Education member Byron McMichael on Monday night during a special meeting to discuss purchase of the former Otego Elementary building.

Roughly 150 community members heard presentations from three prospective purchasers of the former Otego Elementary building during a special two-hour meeting of the Unatego Board of Education on Monday night.

Following the district’s release of a second request for proposals this September, Dirig Designs, Oneonta Christian Academy and Granite Data Solutions submitted proposals for the 34,196-square-foot building at 353 Main St.

The district in September dissolved an earlier purchase agreement with an indoor produce-growing venture, AgZeit, in August. The building was closed because of fiscal stress and declining enrollment in the district in 2017.

Adam Dirig, founder of Dirig Designs in Wells Bridge, said company needs and ties to the area motivated his interest. Dirig offered $100,000 in his proposal.

With his seven-year, $750,000 renovation plan, Dirig would see the building converted into 16 commercial spaces and nine second-story apartments, with the gymnasium remaining available for community use and event rentals. The building’s layout, he noted, would go unchanged.

Though Dirig said his company’s focus is “on residential millwork, drafting and design for architectural kitchens,” he has also diversified into e-commerce and third-party fulfillment services.

Dirig noted that he employs “20-plus people.”

“I started Dirig Designs in 2009 because I’m very family-oriented and I wanted to stay close to family and the area,” he said. “I’ve been here my entire life and one of the things I’ve noticed in this community is other schools that have fallen into disarray … and every time I drive by, my heart is just sad. When Otego (became available), we previously weren’t in a position to take it on,” he continued, “but now that it came up again … we decided this was something that could better diversify the business and make things more established in the community.” Dirig said if chosen, he would begin the “gradual renovation” in 2020.

Representatives from Oneonta Christian Academy shared plans to move the school’s 93 pre-K through 12th-grade students and 23-member faculty from its River Street building in Oneonta. Doing so, they said, could happen quickly and would require minimal modifications to the building, with attention paid to its historic architecture. OCA also offered $100,000.

OCA is in its second year, following the merger of Oneonta Christian School and Lighthouse Christian Academy, and 75 percent of its students reside in Otsego County, the other 25 percent in Delaware County. According the OCA’s presentation, students travel from Richfield Springs to Bovina and from Worcester to Unadilla.

“We love the idea of moving to your town,” said Liz Cook, OCA director of programming. “At 158 River St., we’ve met our full capacity for core academic programs, and for things like P.E., art and music, we have to be really flexible and really creative. For theater productions, we have to transport the entire school offsite. That limits the growth of our programs, but the Otego Elementary building would change all of that.

“We would be honored to take on preserving and maintaining the building,” she continued, noting that OCA foresees it needing “only cosmetic upgrades.”

“Our proposal and plans align clearly with the objectives (of) the Unatego Board of Education,” Cook said. “We’re prepared to make a down payment with no delay and no contingencies and upon taking ownership, we can begin utilizing it immediately and will quickly move forward to create community partnerships.”

OCA board member and parent Rita Oellrich said such partnerships could include offering universal pre-K to non-OCA families, continuing education, summer childcare and themed camps and a public/private library exchange program. OCA, she noted, would use about two-thirds of the building and would “encourage the community to use the school as an event and meeting space.”

Brigg Goodwin, president of the California-based Granite Data Solutions, said his disabled veteran-owned “socially responsible company” is in its 20th year of providing hardware lifecycle management. At his West Coast site, Goodwin has 35 employees — 15 of whom are veterans, and roughly 20 developmentally disabled individuals. Employment, he said, would be a focus in Otego.

“What we’re proposing is the actual jobs and economic development,” he said. “We don’t want to pull away from the town, we’d like to add to it.” GDS jobs, he noted, would pay between $14 and $22 hourly and “don’t require degrees or special trainings.”

“We hire vets first,” Goodwin said, “but intend to modify that for Otego residents.”

GDS is offering $150,000 and would convert one side of the building’s exterior to a production area with two loading docks. The portion of the building not used for production and storage, Goodwin noted, would likely serve as a business incubator.

Otego resident Ellen Brown said the proposals left her hopeful. “I think it will probably turn out to be very productive and amenable to the community,” she said, noting her preference for Oneonta Christian Academy. “I live right across the street from the school, and for 40 years I’ve been watching kids play over there, so I think it would be a positive for the community.”

Board members went into executive session on Monday night, with plans to determine the Otego building’s fate at a Nov. 4 meeting at 7 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. To contact the board with concerns or to read the full proposals, visit unatego.org

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