Thursday, April 28, 2011

Despite Economy, Springbrook Soars

$25 Million Addition Starts Opening In Fall

Fred Seidel of Syracuse retrieves a tool from his pickup during construction of Springbrook’s new gym.

You don’t see some of the most important construction work:  The infrastructure – water pipes, sewerage, drainage, Springbrook’s executive director, Patricia Kennedy, will tell you.
Perhaps so, but there’s plenty above ground to capture your attention.
As you surely have noticed, while driving up and down Route 28, the largest construction project in the region – Springbrook’s $25 million expansion, five years in the planning – has been rising apace.
You’ve seen the deceptively delicate steel beams spanning the 10,000-square-foot gym where, for the first time, disabled youngsters will be able to play full-court basketball.
You probably haven’t noticed the low-slung new classroom building, 6,700 square feet, tucked behind the 1960s main building; that’s rising quickly, too.
In a major enhancement of student safety, the renovations will result a pedestrian campus, circled by a single arterial road, separating people from traffic except at a couple of crossings.
The main parking lot will be in front of the campus, accessed directly from Edson Road, which runs west from Route 28; employees will park there, then walk up steps to the main building.
The buses that bring students to school will enter the arterial at the far end of Edson, then will circle up, drop the youngsters off at a new cafeteria – construction is still to begin – then circle directly out onto Edson again.
That ‘60s-like half-octagon bay that sticks out of the front of the main building – Kennedy makes a face – will be removed.
But the crowning achievement – the three “cottages,” 5,000-square-feet each – is visible to all, speeding toward completion atop the hill at the back of the campus with panoramic views north along the upper Susquehanna Valley.
Always the height of fashion, Kennedy was deftly navigating the muddy grounds around those Craftsman-style cottages after last week’s heavy rains in black high-heels, guiding a tour past the roaring heavy equipment into what will be a refuge where the most challenged autistic youngsters will live.
“They have so many things working against them, let’s have an environment working for them,” said Kennedy, referring to the two dozen residents who will start coming home from out-of-state institutions by this fall.
Inside, caulkers, painters and tile-layers create a whirlwind of activity.
But you can see how the sheltered interior, soothing colors, private bedrooms, even time-out rooms where the residents, if they need to, can cool off alone, will provide the atmosphere Kennedy desires.
Each cottage has a central module that includes a sitting room, dining room and kitchen.  (Eventually, some of the residents will be able to cook for themselves, but supervised.)  Two four-bedroom wings fold off on each side.
“We’ve been as ‘green’ as we can possibly be,” Kennedy added.
The expanded campus – it will add 100 permanent jobs to what, with 900 jobs, is already the fifth largest employer in Otsego County – began in 2007 with an RFP (request for proposals) from the state:  The goal, to start bringing the most severely autistic youngsters closer to home.
There was a humanitarian reason for this, to allow their families to more easily visit.  And a fiscal one:  The money saved on expensive out-of-state tuition will more than pay for the in-state expansions.
Most of the institutions that submitted proposals and were funded had space in existing buildings, but Kennedy believes Springbrook’s idyllic rural setting, amid fields, across from Goodyear Lake, with the namesake brook bubbling past Edson Road, put the local project on the approved list.
The state’s $15 million paid for a “bare bones” project. Another $5 million was obtained.  Then, Paychex founder Tom Golisano, the former gubernatorial candidate, visited the campus and offered a $2.5 million challenge grant.  The match, raised locally, was fulfilled a few weeks ago and announced at Springbrook’s annual April gala at The Otesaga.
Two decades ago, most of Springbrook’s students were physically and mentally handicapped.  “A lot of those children, now we’re supporting in their homes,” said Kennedy.
The new challenge is autism, which is being diagnosed at an accelerating pace.  It’s a confounding ailment – it can be mild; it can be severe – but the goal here is to apply the “best technology” and practices to allow these teens to live productively.
“On the spectrum,” said Kennedy of her prospective students, “these will be on the upper end.  This is the last shot for some of these people.”

John Charbonneau, Watervliet, cuts floor tiles in the hilltop cottages.
Rocky Martini, Unadilla, is on the crew studding out the cafeteria.

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