May 15, 2013 —
A formal offer to buy the Narrowsburg School was made on Thursday, May 9 by The Solution Project (TSP), a community group with a seven-member board founded in December 2012. TSP is currently making plans to turn the vacant building into a center for community, local food development projects, education and more.
The school closed and was boarded up in the spring of 2005. In 2010, there was a bidding war between Ilwon Kang of Queens, NY and Dick Riseling of Callicoon Center. Kang won the bid but ultimately backed out. There have been no other offers until now.
Andrea Reynosa, a founding member of TSP, said she envisions the building being used to benefit the community. Plans are already underway to make it a food hub and possibly as a satellite campus of SUNY Sullivan. TSP has received a USDA grant of $25,000 to be used to buy processing equipment for a 5,000-square-foot commercial kitchen.
Karin M. Hilgersom, president of SUNY Sullivan, in a letter to Reynosa, said, “SUNY Sullivan strongly supports The Solution Project proposal to purchase and repurpose the Narrowsburg vacant central school building,” and that they are “in the process of evaluating the location as a potential satellite site for off-campus instruction.”
She also writes, “It is SUNY Sullivan’s opinion that The Solution Project utilization of this vacant building will provide much needed economic revitalization to the local community by offering value-added Catskill food production, as well as educational, processing and planning services, all of which will increase and expand agricultural operations locally.”
Jennifer Grossman of Livingston Manor, NY is a founding board member of The Solution Project and a consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a national environmental leader on many issues. Grossman said that one of NRDC’s core projects is helping to create a food hub in the western Catskills region. Grossman said a lot of NRDC work is done top down, using advocacy and litigation. However, the New York food hub is a bottom-up approach, which entails working in a community, understanding its needs and gaps and helping to create solutions. “This venue could be one where we educate, innovate and aggregate—all around food,” said Grossman.
Reynosa adds that the building can be used for many purposes. In addition to a food hub and potential SUNY Sullivan campus, it might have a gym, day spa and conference center, and bring back the beloved EagleFest. “There are a lot of possibilities if people get creative,” she said.
Grossman points to the advantages of the building. “It’s got the infrastructure capacity, it’s got the utilities that we need, it’s got the location, and it’s already considered a local gathering place as a school, so it makes sense to convert this and adaptively re-use it,” she said.
The school is listed at $700,000 by John Hector Realty. The Solution Project’s bid is confidential. It is now in the Sullivan West school board’s hands to decide whether or not to sell the school to this organization.
In addition to the USDA grant, on May 10 TSP submitted a Consolidated Funding Application to the Mid Hudson Regional Economic Development Council under Governor Cuomo’s strategic plan, which could garner up to $500,000 to be utilized for adaptive reuse of the building.
The TSP board will meet at the end of May. After that, probably in July, a stakeholder meeting will be held to include anyone who wants to be involved. Grossman envisions many people from the community getting involved, from farmers, to chefs to hotels and more. “We want to bring all those people to the table and say, ‘Hey, look what we’re creating; what do you need?’” she said. “What kind of kitchen do you need for your grandmother’s jam recipe?”
She said TSP wants to start “a dialogue around how we can create these great partnerships, and how this school can serve as that platform for collaboration.”