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December 08, 2016
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Sullivan to transfer property to Cornell

A Garden at Cornell Cooperative Extension

Everyone agreed that the building that houses Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Sullivan County is in serious need of repair. The heating system, for example, is on its last legs, and staff this year strung some temporary wires and thermostats to coax heat into some of the colder places used for public programs.

The building and the 23 acres that goes with it are owned by Sullivan County. The bad news for executive director Gregory Sandor was that the county is still struggling with revenue shortfalls brought about by the Great Recession, and there would be no money available to pay for repairs.

Sandor’s solution was to propose that if the county would sell the property to CCE for $1, CCE would work to raise $500,000 over the next few years for repairs, specifically the HVAC system, and repairs to the roof and parking lot.

On November 7, the nine members of the legislature voted unanimously to move forward with the transfer. This will take the burden of the repairs off the plate of the legislature and at the same time make it easier for CCE to raise money.

In a wide-ranging interview about the future of the building, Sandor said Phil Coombe Jr. and Jerry Skoda, both of whom have long ties to CCE, have volunteered to lead the effort to raise money for the repairs, and New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther has pledged $50,000.

Along with addressing the immediate needs, Sandor also has long-term goals for the building. He said CCE staff will explore geothermal and other sustainable technologies to advance the “greening” of the facility.

Part of the future vision also includes the expansion of some projects that have already been started to make CCE more vibrant and more closely connected with the agricultural community. Sandor said these include the commercial and teaching kitchen, which opens onto an herb garden and an edible garden. The gardens tie into various classes and workshops.

CCE is also in a partnership with BOCES (which has a campus located next door) on a hoop house, which Sandor hopes will evolve into a greenhouse. Members of CCE staff are also in discussions about using five of the 23 acres as the site for a maple syrup demonstration area to help advance the production of maple syrup in the county.

Nicole Slevin, a communications specialist and educator for CCE, noted that there is also renewed attention being given to the mile-long, grant-funded nature trail with heart-healthy equipment that was installed some 25 years ago. Some of it has since been reclaimed by nature. But, Slevin added, there is a pond, and students from BOCES recently adopted the streams and volunteered to litter-pluck the area frequently.

Sandor said he sees the current effort as larger than the three-year plan to address the heating, roof and parking lot; he sees the three-year plan as part of the 30-year plan to reshape CCE for the future.

The transfer of the property dovetails with that, as it also does with the celebration of the organization’s 100th anniversary, which will occur in 2014.