Sunmount office may go in high school

TUPPER LAKE – The school board is considering renting the Baker Wing of the high school to the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which would use it to meet with its clients – but not the sex offenders.

Mary Chartier, deputy director of the Developmental Disabilities Regional Office, told the board Monday that an architect from the agency is developing a master plan to assess moving the regional office from the Sunmount campus on state Route 3 to the Baker Wing. The plan should be complete by October.

Chartier explained that OPWDD deals with two operations. The first, state operations, is being phased out and includes campus programs and providing housing for consumers. The second, the regional office, provides services that include informational sessions for families and individuals, placing individuals into certified sites, development of new programs, assessing individuals’ needs and assisting those who graduate from high school and move into adult life.

Chartier said the state is moving toward a managed-care approach and is downsizing and closing most of the campuses it runs. The clients who use those facilities will then be served by “voluntary agencies” like North Star Industries and the Adirondack Arc, a transition Chartier said should be complete by 2020. She said Sunmount’s main campus on state Route 3 will remain open for the time being.

The facility serves people in six counties: Franklin, Essex, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Clinton and Jefferson.

“If you ride by Sunmount, you can see that some of our buildings are in disarray,” Chartier said. “The actual grounds were built in 1920 or 1930. They’re in tough shape. They have a lot of asbestos in them, windows that are single pane and the heating system is not that great. I think what we’re looking at now is the utilization of our space.”

School board member Dawn Hughes asked Chartier if parents should be concerned about the safety of their children.

“I can see, being employed by Sunmount for as long as I was, people being concerned about folks coming into the (school) building for meetings, especially the folks who have a history of sex offense,” Hughes said. “Can you speak to that?”

Chartier said the Baker Wing would only serve as a regional office, and people with sex offense in their background wouldn’t come in. She said people screening sex offenders for residential placement would still go into Sunmount to screen them.

Hughes asked how many employees the regional office has, and board member Trish Anrig asked if parking would be an issue.

Chartier said the office employs about 25 people, but they often carpool. School district Superintendent Seth McGowan said he didn’t think parking would be part of the master plan and said that discussion could be had once the move takes effect.

McGowan said the move would benefit both parties.

“We’re looking at the cost of the Baker Wing, and at moving classes out of the Baker Wing in order to facilitate using that area of the building to generate revenue,” McGowan said. “We thought that we would take some time finding a partner, or a tenant, and it turns out we have one right here.”

McGowan stressed that discussions on the move just began recently.

“It seems like a great marriage, but we haven’t even had a proposal yet,” McGowan said. “Everything we do would be clear in the contract that would be drawn up by our lawyers.”

Once the contract is complete, it would only need approval from the board to make it happen.

“Unless there’s any change to egress or construction, there’s really no approval needed for this,” McGowan said. “It’s a non-profit. We’re only allowed to do it for 10-year terms, but there’s no competitive bid process.”

McGowan said the school district might have to cover the expense if a secure barrier between the Baker Wing and the rest of the school had to be constructed.

“The governor has said that if we do this, the governor would write a check to cover the expense to all of the taxpayers next year,” McGowan said. “We have to not only stay below the tax cap, but we have to offer some kind of articulated plan for sharing of services. This is an opportunity here to segment off part of our network. That’s the kind of thing that I think would pass the muster with the governor’s office.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.