A developer's plan to convert Watkins Glen Middle School into affordable senior apartments and community space received a $3.8 million state grant Wednesday, a key step in moving the $12.5 million project forward.
A developer’s plan to convert Watkins Glen Middle School into affordable senior apartments and community space received a $3.8 million state grant Wednesday, a key step in moving the $12.5 million project forward.
“Now that we got this, this project is going to move,” said Tony Fiala, executive director of SEPP Inc., the Binghamton-based developer. “Absolutely, this will move now. We needed this. If we didn’t get this, we’d be in tough shape. But this is a go, a green light.”
The $3.8 million grant was part of $95 million statewide for affordable housing projects announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Watkins Glen Middle School will close in June.
A new middle school wing is being built onto Watkins Glen High School as part of a $24.6 million facilities improvement project that will consolidate all students at the school district’s main 12th Street campus this fall. Construction began in June 2013.
Watkins Glen Central School District has an agreement in place to sell the existing middle school to SEPP Inc., which is planning to convert the building into 52 one- and two-bedroom apartments for residents age 55 and older.
The apartments will be available to seniors with incomes up to 80 percent of the average median income.
SEPP Inc., which will own and manage the apartments, is a private non-profit that focuses on developing affordable housing. The agency has done three similar adaptive reuse projects in former schools in Broome County, Fiala said.
Work on converting Watkins Glen Middle School into apartments is expected to begin sometime this summer or early fall, and take 22 to 24 months to finish.
“It’s in good shape, it hasn’t sat idle,” Fiala said. “I call it ‘clean lines.’ You can really just kind of knock out walls and frame it up.”
There’s also another aspect to the project.
The school’s auditorium and one of its two gymnasiums will be preserved and refurbished, and then turned over to the Village of Watkins Glen so they can be used for performing arts, recreational activities and community events, Fiala said.
“On that part of the project, we’re not in it to make any money,” he said. “That’s for us to give back to the community. It’ll be a very friendly lease arrangement with the village.”
The auditorium-gymnasium portion of the project will be supported by a separate $900,000 state grant awarded last December through the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council.
The middle school project is part of the much larger Project Seneca, a long-term economic development initiative in Schuyler County centered around redeveloping the Watkins Glen waterfront.
Project Seneca is a partnership between Schuyler County, the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, and multiple private developers. The plan is to use about $200 million worth of public projects to leverage overall investment of roughly $1 billion over a 10-year span, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn has told The Leader.