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Tax credits are critical to restoring old Holley school

Photos by Tom Rivers: Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing, addresses a crowd this morning outside the former Holley High School. Leenhouts wants to redevelop the site into senior apartments and the village offices.

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 11 November 2016 at 1:59 pm

HOLLEY – Calling it the lynch-pin to re-development of the old Holley High School, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer this morning announced that he will work to secure $3.7 million in housing and historic preservation tax credits for developers of the proposed Holley Gardens, a $17 million redevelopment project.

Schumer spoke in front of the school located in the center of the Village of Holley, and called the plan to create 41 mixed-income apartments for seniors, new village office space, and restore the auditorium for public events, “a labor of love,” by developer Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing.

“He is doing this because he cares,” Schumer said.

Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer want to see the old Holley school repurposed for housing and offices. Leenhouts said in his 49 years of real estate development he has never had a community work so hard to make a project a reality as the redevelopment of the old school.

Nelson Leenhouts, chairman and CEO of Home Leasing, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer want to see the old Holley school repurposed for housing and offices. Leenhouts said in his 49 years of real estate development he has never had a community work so hard to make a project a reality as the redevelopment of the old school.

Schumer called the old school, “a beautiful, historic building in a prime location which has needed some real TLC for the last 30 years.”

The school was built in 1931 and closed in 1975. It was used by Liftec Manfacturing until the company went bankrupt about two decades ago.

Schumer said the redevelopment to senior housing and village office space would, “take some elbow grease, but I think we are up to the challenge.”

The senator noted the project now needs a federal investment and is urging the National Park Service and its partner agency, the NYS Office of Historic Preservation, to approve $3 million in federal Historic Tax Credits.

Additionally, Senator Schumer is urging the NYS Department of Homes and Community Renewal to award $700,000 in federal Low Income Tax Credits that the state receives from the U.S. Treasury Department to assist developers.

Developer Nelson Leenhouts said his company is honored to have the opportunity to restore and transform the school.  “We have been in business a long time and we have never been so welcomed with such open arms,” he said of the Village of Holley and Orleans County.  “We look forward to providing housing for seniors here.  The location is spectacular.”

Schumer said the tax credits will leverage $7.1 million in private investment as part of the overall $17 million redevelopment plan.  The project is expected to create 64 construction jobs during the 15-month construction period and two full-time jobs after construction.

Local and county officials attended the announcement including Village Trustee Kevin Lynch, Orleans County Legislature Chairman Dave Callard and County Legislator John DeFillipps.  Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty introduced the senator and thanked local officials including Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Senator Schumer for their efforts on behalf of the project.

Leenhouts of Home Leasing said he would like assurance on the tax credits in December, so the company can begin preparing for construction to start late next year.

“We are working hard together,” Mayor Sorochty noted.  “There is a huge spirit of cooperation. Senator Schumer has been a huge advocate of the project and the Village of Holley.”

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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer meets with local officials and people working on the redevelopment of the old Holley High School today on the front lawn and steps of the historic school. Schumer said the tax credits for reviving historic properties can make the projects financially viable, and return important properties as community assets.

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Editorial: To lower taxes and strengthen economy in Orleans, local officials should grow sales tax

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 October 2016 at 8:02 am

$17 million in 2017 is an attainable goal

This washed-out sign declaring Orleans County as "Home of the King" with a faint outline of a salmon greets motorists on Route 98 near the Elba-Barre townline. The county could do much better with gateway signage highlighting local attractions.

This washed-out sign declaring Orleans County as “Home of the King” with a faint outline of a salmon greets motorists on Route 98 near the Elba-Barre townline. The county could do much better with gateway signage highlighting local attractions.

Orleans County and the local school and village governments have all been in shrink mode in recent years, making big reductions in staff.

The county sold the nursing home, and many of its departments have fewer employees than a decade ago. Villages have fewer police officers and DPW staff.

In some cases, the municipalities are sharing staff to bring down costs. Orleans and Genesee counties have teamed up to have Public Health employees working in both counties. Holley has contracted with Albion for police chief services and for expertise running its sewer plant.

The officials have found ways to reduce the overall government overhead.

But there is another way to bring down property taxes, a way that would lift up local businesses.

The local governments should look to boost sales tax revenues in the county. There should be a push to have Orleans residents spend more within our county, and there should be a concerted effort to bring in more visitors.

Right now, Orleans County ranks as the fourth worse out of 62 counties in sales tax per capita, despite ranking 25th from the bottom in median household income.

Orleans gets $358 per person in sales tax. We are one of only six counties below $400 per person, according to the Office of the State Comptroller. Wyoming County, which is similar in size to Orleans at about 40,000 people, gets $394 per capita in sales tax.

Orleans County, population 42,235 in 2013, took in $15,469,950 in sales tax in 2015. There was $15,703,363 in 2014.

Wyoming County, population 41,531 in 2013, took in $16,591,138 in 2015 and $16,853,447 in 2014.

A hot air balloon takes off at Letchworth State Park in this photo from May 2015. Wyoming County has numerous signs in many towns pointing people to the park.

A hot air balloon takes off at Letchworth State Park in this photo from May 2015. Wyoming County has numerous signs in many towns pointing people to the park.

I often hear people say Orleans is the poorest county in the state. That isn’t true. Our median household income is $48,502. There are 62 counties in New York and Orleans ranks 25th worst (or 37th highest) in median household income, according to the Census Bureau. The Census compiled the data in household income from 2009-2013 in the American Community Survey.

In Western New York, Orleans tops Niagara County ($47,955), Allegany ($42,429) and Cattaraugus at $42,603.

Wyoming has a higher household income than Orleans. Wyoming is 34th out of 62 counties at $51,100.

A reasonable goal with sales tax for Orleans would be to match Wyoming. Orleans would need to bring in about $1.1 million more a year.

Although Wyoming has a higher median household income, Orleans has slightly more people.

I would like to see our elected officials launch a campaign to boost sales tax to $17 million in 2017 and to $20 million by 2020.

Every $1 million in sales tax represents $25 million in taxable spending.

Here are some ideas (little and big projects) to reach that goal:

Sell more gas (and other stuff) locally

We lose a lot of sales tax because our gas prices are higher than neighboring counties. Meeting with gas providers, explaining how their prices hurt us and drive up taxes, may get some relief.

Educating the consumer may be best bet to capture more sales tax from gas sales. Consumers may not realize when they buy gas in Elba, Brockport or Lockport, they are depriving their own municipality of that revenue. If they buy 15 gallons a week outside Orleans (with the county losing about 8 cents in sales tax per gallon) that’s $1.20 lost each week or $60 for the year. Multiply that by thousands of people.

The Chamber of Commerce and local governments should develop a “Buy in Orleans” campaign and promote it heavily. “Shop locally and lower your taxes.”

Develop heritage trails

  • It was a big deal about two years ago when the state allowed the Niagara Wine Trail to extend past Niagara County through Orleans, all the way to near Rochester. The state even provided money for road signs. But the local wineries and Niagara Wine Trail have struggled with getting permits and approvals for the signs. This photo shows the sign on Route 104 near the Niagara-Orleans border.

    It was a big deal about two years ago when the state allowed the Niagara Wine Trail to extend past Niagara County through Orleans, all the way to near Rochester. The state even provided money for road signs. But the local wineries and Niagara Wine Trail have struggled with getting permits and approvals for the signs. This photo shows the sign on Route 104 near the Niagara-Orleans border.

    A Sandstone Trail on Route 31 – Sandstone signs for municipalities and roadside signs for attractions. (The Sandstone Trail should include a quarrymen memorial in either Medina, Holley or Albion, or perhaps a quarrymen tribute in each community. The sandstone quarries were one of the community’s most dominant industries for about a century, and attracted thousands of immigrants to Orleans. Many of their descendants continue to live among us.)

  • Route 98 corridor from Batavia to Point Breeze (several museums on this stretch). Add bronze statues/memorial sites in Batavia (for horsemen at Batavia Downs) in Elba (for muck farmers) and in Albion (for Santa and/or quarrymen).
  • Promote and better develop an Albion Heritage Trail that ties together the historic sites at Mount Albion Cemetery, Courthouse Square, downtown, Erie Canal, and Cobblestone Museum as well as many grand old homes.
  • Partner with Niagara and Monroe counties to establish and promote Cobblestone Trail on Route 104 with Cobblestone Museum the centerpiece.
  • Work with wineries to get Niagara Wine Trail signs up. (They were approved more than two years ago but bureaucracy has stymied the sign efforts.)
  • As the county nears its 200th anniversary in 2026, the local officials should be mulling ways to celebrate that milestone. Perhaps the quarrymen memorial and other tributes would be attractions while paying homage to our heritage.

Historic assets

  • Holley has the only original section of the Erie Canal remaining from between Buffalo and Rochester. A humble sign nailed to a tree notes that distinction.

    Holley has the only original section of the Erie Canal remaining from between Buffalo and Rochester. A humble sign nailed to a tree notes that distinction.

    Holley has the only remaining original loop of Erie Canal. It is currently filled with wild brush and vegetation. If it was cleared out, with interpretive signage, it could be an attraction.

  • There are many other historic assets, from cemeteries, stately homes and historic districts. A package could be developed to capitalize on the interest in history and heritage. Orleans County has many stories to tell from the war of 1812, Erie Canal, Underground Railroad, industrial revolution (Medina sandstone quarries) and much more. Some of these sites could be connected through hitching posts and carriage steps, especially if someone provided carriage rides to see the historic trail.
  • Work to obtain a Pullman Sleeping Car that would be parked in Albion and rented out to coffee shop/bakery.
  • As part of the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal construction, Orleans County and the canal towns should try each year to introduce a painted fiberglass mule and oxen. They could be gradually introduced over the eight-year bicentennial which starts next year and ends in 2025. The county may want to work with GO Art! and contribute some funds to the effort. Numerous communities have done these type of public art projects, including Batavia, Buffalo, Rochester and Olean, just to name a few.

Natural wonders

The Medina Waterfalls is an awesome site, but it's largely inaccessible to the public.

The Medina Waterfalls is an awesome site, but it’s largely inaccessible to the public.

  • Medina has one of the most impressive waterfalls along the canal, but it is largely inaccessible to public. Having an elevated platform from canal leading back to waterfalls would put an attraction in play, drawing more people to Medina.
  • There is also a nice waterfall in Shelby. If pubic access was secured, it would be a nice spot for families and others to enjoy.
  • Holley has a second waterfalls by the water plant that would be popular with a viewing platform. (This one is actually in Clarendon, but is close to the waterfall near the canal off Frisbee Terrace.)

Bronze Statues

  • Provide some funding for bronze statues for Company F Memorial in Medina and Charles Howard in Albion. Both would provide an iconic character for their communities. The Howard statue of a Santa would promote Albion’s Santa history and could spur the downtown to become home to Santa-themed businesses (The Santa Café and Bake Shop, for example).

Support existing community events

  • Set aside $50,000 annually from the $200K-plus in gambling money (as part of the state settlement with the Senecas) and use it to make local festivals better and to support projects, such as bronze statues, better gateway signage, etc.

Get more out of fishing

Fishermen try to catch salmon and trout along the Oak Orchard River last October.

Fishermen try to catch salmon and trout along the Oak Orchard River last October.

  • Orleans gets about $12 million in spending from fishing. That’s a far cry from the $100 million up in the Oswego area with the Salmon River. We could do more. I would start with better gateway signs at the county borders. The current ones that say, “Home of the King” with a salmon are washed out and unnoticeable. Dramatic signs that say, “Catch me if you can,” might reel in more fishing cash.

Conclusion

The county should form a sales tax commission or task force that would work with the town and village governments, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and business associations to have an action plan for putting more assets in play that would bring more visitors to the county and also encourage Orleans residents to spend more locally.

That would grow the sales tax, reduce pressure on property taxes, and stimulate local businesses.

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Orleans EDA approves $150K loan for Niagara Food Specialties

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 October 2016 at 5:26 pm

YATES – A Canadian-based company that acquired the former Atwater Foods building on Route 18 in Yates was approved for a $150,000 low-interest loan today by the Orleans Economic Development Agency.

Niagara Food Specialties is a meat processor for gourmet markets, including restaurants and hotels. It specializes in prosciutto ham.

The company formed in Canada in 2001 and is based in Niagara Falls, Ont. Niagara Food is moving its meat processing, salting and aging lines from Ontario to Yates.

It is upgrading the former Atwater site, and will use the $150,000 loan for new machinery and equipment, EDA officials said. The company is to pay back the loan over 66 months at 75 percent of the prime rate, current 2.625 percent.

The company is investing about $3.5 million total in the Yates site, a 51,000-square-foot facility. It is projecting to have 18 ½ employees in Yates, said James Whipple, chief executive officer for the Orleans EDA.

Niagara Food co-owners and brothers Mario and Fernando Pingue looked at other sites for the project, including locations in Ontario and Michigan. The Yates site will allow the Pingue brothers to increase production, introduce new products and bring efficiencies to its production process.

Niagara Food Specialties also has been awarded a $100,000 capital grant from Empire State Development. The Town of Yates also has applied for $250,000 in Office of Community Renewal  funding to assist the company.

Holley community sees plans to renovate old high school

A rendering shows what the restored and revitalized former Holley High School in the village will look like after its conversion to senior housing and village office/meeting space. Note the portico with columns and pediment will be restored to the facade.

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 28 September 2016 at 8:33 am
Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty speaks during an informational meeting Tuesday evening at the Holley Middle School/High School on development restoration plans for the old Holley High School. The Neo-Classical building was constructed in 1931 and was last used as a school in the mid-1970s. The village has been working for several years to find a developer for the historic structure which sits in a prominent spot in the downtown business district.

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty speaks during an informational meeting Tuesday evening at the Holley Middle School/High School on development restoration plans for the old Holley High School. The Neo-Classical building was constructed in 1931 and was last used as a school in the mid-1970s. The village has been working for several years to find a developer for the historic structure which sits in a prominent spot in the downtown business district.3818 Developers presented a proposed site plan which includes parking to be owned and maintained by the Village of Holley. Mayor Brian Sorochty said there will be spaces for residents and unused spaces will be available for public use. Note the short driveway and parking off Main Street towards the front of the building for the village offices which will be housed in the front of the school. Holley community sees plans to renovate old high school Photos by Kristina Gabalski:

HOLLEY – Members of the Holley community got a first glimpse Tuesday evening of what the old Holley High School will look like when an extensive proposed restoration/development project is completed.

Developers, architects and engineers presented initial plans and answered questions during a meeting at the Holley Middle School/High School auditorium regarding their efforts to restore the building to its former glory for use as mixed income senior housing with the village office and meeting space.

“Stay positive, support the project and be patient,” Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty told those in attendance.

He said the project is important for the village, the Town of Murray, surrounding communities and Orleans County.

Home Leasing is in the process of acquiring the school – located at the intersection of routes 31 and 237 in the center of the village. Officials said Orleans County has agreed to foreclose on the property, allowing it to be sold. Home Leasing is working along with Edgemere Development, Glasow Simmons Architecture L.L.P. and Marathon Engineering – all Rochester based firms – on the project, and officials from all stakeholders attended the meeting.

Also in attendance was Landmark Society of Western New York Executive Director Wayne Goodman. In 2013, the old Holley High School was part of the first-ever “Five to Revive” list compiled by the Landmark Society of significant historical structures in need of saving, partly because of their architectural/historical value and partly because of their, “latent opportunistic value,” Goodman said.

He said the Holley school merited making the list due to its Neo-Classical architectural style, the fact it was once the center of civic life in Holley, and because of, “what it could be….. I love your village,” Goodman said, noting the village park system and walkability.

Wayne Goodman, executive director of the Landmark Society of Western New York speaks during Tuesday’s information meeting. Village officials said the Landmark Society’s 2013 designation of the old Holley High School as one of the first Five to Revive historic buildings attracted a development team to work on plans to restore and convert the building to mixed senior housing and village office and meeting space. Another building on the 2013 Five to Revive List - the Eastman Dental Dispensary - has recently been restored by the same developer - Home Leasing - for senior housing.  Goodman said a ribbon cutting at that site is planned today.

Wayne Goodman, executive director of the Landmark Society of Western New York speaks during Tuesday’s information meeting. Village officials said the Landmark Society’s 2013 designation of the old Holley High School as one of the first Five to Revive historic buildings attracted a development team to work on plans to restore and convert the building to mixed senior housing and village office and meeting space. Another building on the 2013 Five to Revive List – the Eastman Dental Dispensary – has recently been restored by the same developer – Home Leasing – for senior housing.  Goodman said a ribbon cutting at that site is planned today.

He explained that the village, town, county and developers have “moved mountains to get this far…. I have full confidence in the development team.”

Home Leasing Chair/CEO Nelson Leenhouts said it was the Landmark Society’s Five to Revive designation that brought him and John Oster of Edgemere Development out to Holley to see the school.

“I can’t recall ever being more welcomed,” he said. “We’ve asked for an awful lot and made a lot of progress.”

He said developers will work to secure financing over the winter and perhaps start construction next summer. Plans call for 41 units of senior housing. Village office space would be located on the main floor and the auditorium would be saved and restored for use as meeting space.

“We are honored to have this opportunity,” Leenhouts said. “I wake up every morning more excited than the day before.”

Charlie Oster of Edgemere Development explained the challenges of financing historic preservation/conversion projects including design standards necessary for tax credits, environmental challenges and market size.

He explained that with a small village like Holley, it is important for developers to “be sensitive to the needs of the  community. To move forward this project is dependent on unshakable community support,” Oster said.

Architect Jason Simmons of Glasow Simmons Architecture, said former classrooms work very well for apartments.  Existing width and height of corridors will be maintained, and restoration of woodwork and reestablishment of stairwells are also part of the plans. He also explained the name of the project – “Holley Gardens,” saying developers want to “provide an area for residents to grow their own garden.”

Developers presented a proposed site plan which includes parking to be owned and maintained by the Village of Holley. Mayor Brian Sorochty said there will be spaces for residents and unused spaces will be available for public use. Note the short driveway and parking off Main Street towards the front of the building for the village offices which will be housed in the front of the school.

Developers presented a proposed site plan which includes parking to be owned and maintained by the Village of Holley. Mayor Brian Sorochty said there will be spaces for residents and unused spaces will be available for public use. Note the short driveway and parking off Main Street towards the front of the building for the village offices which will be housed in the front of the school.

Home Leasing executive vice-president Kim Russell said that the building will have onsite management and maintenance and the Orleans County Office for the Aging will provide support for residents who are in need of a little extra help.

Other details explained by the development team include 72 parking spaces – the village will own and maintain the parking lots – and there will be parking off Main Street for access to village offices. An interior elevator will be installed and there will be handicapped access at the rear of the building.

The columns on the facade of the school will also be restored. Rents are expected to be in the $400-$800/unit range. Developers also explained that it is likely a PILOT program will be requested, providing developers will tax breaks while still providing municipalities with tax revenue for needed services.

Developers said they have already made a significant investment in the project and, “we feel confident over time we will get the (tax) credits we need to make this project work,” Russell said.

Once the project is complete, “you will be stuck with us for 30 years,” Nelson Leenhouts said. “We will be here to manage the property.”

Mayor Brian Sorochty thanked all those who attended, including village, town and county officials, as well as those officials who have been working to clear hurdles which have created challenges in moving the project forward. He restated that the old school making the Five to Revive list was “a primary reason why we are here today… the Landmark Society designation as a Five to Revive was huge.” He also stated his confidence in the development team, “If this team can’t pull this off, I’m not sure who else can,” the mayor said.

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Kendall community sees transformation of school campus

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 2 September 2016 at 10:05 am
Photos by Kristina Gabalski: The new main entrance to Kendall Jr./Sr. High School.  Work should be completed on the exterior and roofline areas by late September, administrators say.

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: The new main entrance to Kendall Jr./Sr. High School.  Work should be completed on the exterior and roofline areas by late September, administrators say.

The new main entry to the Jr./Sr. High School, which features floor to ceiling windows, is still being completed.

The new main entry to the Jr./Sr. High School, which features floor to ceiling windows, is still being completed.

KENDALL – An open house on Thursday gave the Kendall community a chance to see a new-look school campus. The changes were greeted with enthusiasm.

“I think the students will be excited by the new spaces,” Kendall Jr./Sr. High Special Ed teacher Len Pizzi said Thursday evening as he stood in a newly renovated classroom in the science wing of the school.

The open house gave students, parents and residents an opportunity to see the nearly competed Phase II of the district’s capital improvement project.

Kendall residents approved the $25 million capitol project in May 2013.

Most rooms in the science wing now have vaulted ceilings and exposed beams which give a modern, clean, industrial feel to the space.

Pizzi noted the vaulted ceilings are similar in design to those in other parts of the building, including the Commons area and the new cafeteria, which was completed in Phase I of the project.

The science rooms are also equipped with smart boards which, Pizzi says, make it easy for him to go right from lecture/note taking to an audio visual presentation of the subject being discussed.

The newly renovated Jr./Sr. High School Main Office has a clean and modern look.  "It's very nice, staff member Rhonda Oliver said.  "I love coming to work."

The newly renovated Jr./Sr. High School Main Office has a clean and modern look.  “It’s very nice, staff member Rhonda Oliver said.  “I love coming to work.”

In Ben Veit’s Regents Physics/7th Grade science room, incoming 7th-grader Owen Shaw and his parents, Melissa and Nate, were also impressed.

“They thought of everything,” Mr. Shaw said.

Owen noted that the renovations help make him more excited about starting school next week.

Many activities were planned during the open house, which ran from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Students were able to locate and set up their lockers, meet with teachers and administrators, and enjoy refreshments.

The Sports Boosters held their Chicken Barbecue, the PTSA offered cool refreshments with root beer floats, and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department, Kendall Music Boosters and the Orleans County Department of Mental Health had information tables in the Commons area.

Jr./Sr. High School nurse Bethanie Mason stands in the new nurse's office, which can now accommodate wheelchairs.  This will be Mason's first full year as school nurse.  "I think the kids will like it," she said.  In addition to the main office and the nurse's office, the Jr./Sr. High counseling office also underwent renovations.

Jr./Sr. High School nurse Bethanie Mason stands in the new nurse’s office, which can now accommodate wheelchairs.  This will be Mason’s first full year as school nurse.  “I think the kids will like it,” she said.  In addition to the main office and the nurse’s office, the Jr./Sr. High counseling office also underwent renovations.

Additionally, parents and community members working to have the speed limit reduced in front of the school had a table with information and a petition to sign in hopes of gaining support from county and state legislators.

Chorus and band students performed, and a Prevention Needs Assessment Survey Data presentation – based on students’ substance abuse at Kendall – was held at 6 p.m.

Superintendent Julie Christensen said students visiting the new science wing for the first time thought it was “so cool.”

When she told them a corridor seating area was equipped with wireless access, they responded enthusiastically, “it just got even better.”

There is still work to do to complete Phase ll, most of it on the roofline on the exterior of the building. Christensen said work will be completed for Homecoming in late September.

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

The Commons area, which underwent renovations in Phase I, now has furniture including sofas, upholstered chairs and tables and chairs.  Teachers and administrators say the area now has a "college" feel.  It was formerly the seating area for the cafeteria. 3088 A corridor seating area in the newly renovated science wing is high tech - it has Internet access

The Commons area, which underwent renovations in Phase I, now has furniture including sofas, upholstered chairs and tables and chairs.  Teachers and administrators say the area now has a “college” feel.  It was formerly the seating area for the cafeteria. 3088 A corridor seating area in the newly renovated science wing is high tech – it has Internet access

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

Classrooms in the renovated science wing are spacious with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.

Kendall Jr./Sr. High vocal and instrumental music students provided entertainment during the Open House.  They are seated on new furniture in  the Commons area of the school.

Kendall Jr./Sr. High vocal and instrumental music students provided entertainment during the Open House.  They are seated on new furniture in  the Commons area of the school.

Doorways to science rooms now feature clear-glass windows.

Doorways to science rooms now feature clear-glass windows.

Editorial: Father and son left lasting mark on Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 August 2016 at 1:41 pm

John and Mike Sawyer took the lead in building Western New York Energy’s ethanol plant in Medina.

082516_ethanol

Photos by Tom Rivers

MEDINA – Orleans County and the Western New York agricultural suffered a great loss with Mike Sawyer’s death a week ago on Thursday.

Sawyer, president and CEO of Western New York Energy, was hiking on a remote trail on Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks when he collapsed and died at age 43 due a medical condition.

Sawyer was instrumental in developing the $90 million ethanol plant in Medina about a decade ago. He quit a good job in finance in Rochester to work alongside his father, John Sawyer, in building the ethanol plant.

The two men rallied investors, community leaders and elected officials to get behind the project. The ethanol plant opened in November 2007, and remains the largest economic development project in Orleans County history.

John was the company’s first CEO and president. He served in that role until he died from leukemia at age 72 on Oct. 13, 2013. His son succeeded him as CEO and president.

Many of the ethanol plants are financed by giant agricultural companies. The Sawyers used local money to get the project done.

“It was their vision, grit and determination that made it happen,” said Dean Norton of Elba, who is president of the New York Farm Bureau.

The ethanol plant has given local corn growers a major market for corn. Many farmers have upgraded corn storage facilities, and added corn acreage since the ethanol plant opened.

“They were definitely very community-oriented,” Norton said. “They wanted to be good neighbors.”

John and Mike considered other Western New York sites for the ethanol plant. The Medina site at the corner of Bates Road and Route 31A had rail access, low-cost hydropower, and space to develop the complex that turns 20 million bushels of corn annually into about 60 million gallons of ethanol.

John had a successful farming career in Geneseo, where he raised his family. But John grew up in Orleans County, and welcomed the chance to return to his roots. The Sawyers gave $250,000 to the new Hoag Library in Albion, and contributed to many other charitable efforts, from golf tournaments to people battling illnesses.

(On a personal note, soon after Orleans Hub went live in April 2013, Mike called me saying he and his employees enjoyed the news site. He wondered how it would survive financially because it depends on ads to pay the bills for the Hub. Mike offered to take out a monthly ad even though the company isn’t selling its products retail to the community. WNY Energy has been an advertiser ever since.)

I was working for The Daily News in Batavia 12 years ago when the Sawyers starting meeting with local farmers and elected officials to build support for the first ethanol plant in the state.

It seemed then that Orleans County often came in second or third place when companies were looking at mega-projects. You would hear about companies looking at sites in Orleans, but we didn’t often land the big company.

When WNY Energy committed to Medina, Gov. George Pataki came to town to celebrate the news.

082316_Sawyer

Mike and John Sawyer were often side by side at Western New York Energy. 

Gabrielle Barone saw first-hand how Mike and his father pushed the make the project a reality. She is vice president of business development for the Orleans Economic Development Agency.

“Mike Sawyer brought an abundance of energy and solid business fundamentals to his role as CEO of Western New York Energy that was evident when I first met him during the initial development stages of the project,” Barone said. “I recall how he had the timely knack of bringing the right balance of humor into a conversation just when it was needed. We are indebted to both John and Mike Sawyer – they had the rare ability to see a potential and bring that to fruition to benefit the agricultural economy of Western New York and beyond. Michael was an outstanding successor and I share along with so many others, his untimely passing.”

The company pays about $1.2 million annually in local taxes, providing an enormous boost to the Medina school district, Town of Shelby, Orleans County and even the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library.

Despite the big tax bill, the company has been generous with the community.

John was becoming more active in local causes until his death from leukemia. He was especially interested in local history and wanted to help fund a county museum.

Mike became the company’s leader following his father’s death. He would oversee a recent $2 million investment in additional grain storage for 800,000 bushels of corn.

Mike, like his father, also was interested in helping local historical groups.

Mike also had a passion for competitive barbecuing, travelling the country for competitions. The former St. Bonaventure hockey player also loved the outdoors. He was hiking with his wife Andrea last week. He collapsed after reaching the mountain’s summit.

His funeral is this morning at 10 a.m. at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Geneseo, where he was a member of the vestry, and the church’s property and finance committees.

Our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at WNY Energy.

State approves grant for teaching kitchen at fairgrounds

Staff Reports Posted 27 May 2016 at 12:00 am

KNOWLESVILLE – The state has approved a $25,675 grant for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County to establish a teaching kitchen at the 4-H Fairgrounds. The funds will go towards a kitchen at the Trolley Building.

The funding was announced today by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said $1.1 million in state funds will be used for projects to strengthen the research, promotion and development of New York State’s agricultural industry.

The funding, approved by the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority, supports efforts range from upgrading equipment at the New York Wine & Culinary Center, to developing a marketing plan for the Lake Ontario Wine Trail, to boosting the craft beverage industry through research at the New York State Agricultural Experimental Station.

The Upstate revitalization Award-winning Finger Lakes Forward plan for investing state resources recognizes the centrality of agriculture in the region’s economy. The Finger Lakes produces approximately a quarter of New York State’s total agricultural output and the industry supports 19,000 jobs in the region.

“Agriculture remains a key economic engine for New York and we must do all we can to ensure its continued strength,” Governor Cuomo said. “This funding will support the thousands of farms and agricultural businesses that call the Finger Lakes home, as well as the research that has been critical in the growth of New York’s craft beverage industry.”

The Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority, in cooperation with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, solicits applications each year to assist in the development of agriculture and agriculture-related businesses in nine counties in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates. The Authority has awarded more than $6.5 million to 60 projects in the region through the Agriculture Development Grant Program since 2011.

The Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority Board of Directors has voted to fund the following projects in 2016:

New York Wine and Culinary Center: $192,000 for the purchase of audio visual equipment, purchase of new kitchen equipment, food truck improvements, 2017 CSA Fair, guest chef events, and marketing and promotion material and collateral.

New York Wine & Grape Foundation: $195,000 to support the NY Drinks NY program.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County: $25,675 to establish a teaching kitchen at the Orleans County fairgrounds.

Lake Ontario Wine Trail: $27,750 to implement the Lake Ontario Wine Trail Marketing Plan.

New York Apple Association: $82,701 to assess the economic contribution of the apple industry in New York State and to enhance the industry’s economic development activities.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $100,000 for plant growth chamber renovation and purchase of a bench top refractometer.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $220,000 for research to support accelerated production of organic grains, corn and soybeans.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $200,000 for the third year of a multi-year plan to research malting barley production.

New York State Agricultural Experimental Station: $56,874 to support the development and testing of apple varieties for the production of hard cider.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “These counties are home to some of New York’s most diverse agricultural producers and are vital to the success of the industry throughout the State. These key investments in research, facility upgrades, and marketing will benefit both the producers and the public, and this funding will help to ensure the success of agriculture in the state and drive the industry forward.”

For more on the Genesee Valley Regional Market Authority, click here.

Heritage Heroes recognized for important preservation efforts

Posted 18 April 2016 at 12:00 am

File photos by Tom Rivers  – Dee Robinson, a historian, shares a lecture in February 2015 at the Hoag Library on early black history in Orleans County. The program was part of a Black History Month celebration. Robinson is being recognized for lifetime achievement in her role as historian.

Press Release, GCC

Now in its third year, the Orleans County Heritage Heroes Awards were created in 2014 as a way to recognize the efforts of those who give their time, hard work, and often money to preserve and protect local heritage. Often unnoticed, the efforts of those honored help to ensure that the history of Orleans County will be passed to the next generation.

The 2016 class of Heritage Heroes will be recognized in a ceremony at Genesee Community College in Albion on Friday, April 29, at 7 p.m. Jim Simon, associate dean of Orleans County Campus Centers, expressed his wish that many from the community would attend the ceremony to help celebrate.

“Those chosen as Heritage Heroes are special people,” according to Simon. “They give freely of their time and work tirelessly to preserve the many historic assets of Orleans County. We hope that their neighbors and friends will turn out for the ceremony to show their appreciation for all that these honorees have done.”

This year’s Heritage Heroes are:

Tim Archer – A distinguished teacher at Albion Middle School, Archer was the 2009-2010 “Educator of the Year.” Working with retired Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin, Archer and his students took on the task of revitalizing the long neglected County Alms House Cemetery in Albion. After cleaning up the cemetery and resetting toppled and buried stones, students researched the names of nearly 160 residents buried there.

Provided photo

This photo from May 2015 shows Albion seventh grade service learning students helping to clear brush at the old CCC/POW Camp at Hamlin Beach State Park. WWII prisoners of war were housed here in the 1940s. Pictured, from left, are Kolin Vangorder, Conner Hollenbeck, camp expert Ed Evans, Patrick Ricker, teacher Tim Archer, Cody Wilson, and Brooklynn Reed. It’s one of many service learning projects led by Archer that highlight local history.

More recently, Archer and his students sought to honor the only known resident of Orleans County to be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Buried in Hillside Cemetery in Holley, Charles Herbert Taylor fought for the 140th New York Volunteer Infantry. Believing that Taylor’s resting place should be highlighted, Archer applied to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for a grant to erect a historic marker.

Margaret Wiley – During a violent storm in 1916, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was destroyed. But thanks to the dedication and perseverance of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse Committee, led by Peg Wiley, the historic structure has been rebuilt and once again stands as a beacon over the Ontario shore.

This photo of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse was taken in May 2015. Construction of the lighthouse was completed in 2010. It is a replica of one from 1876. That lighthouse toppled over in a windstorm in 1916.

The Oak Orchard Lighthouse is one of the landmarks at Point Breeze. Completed in 2010 – almost a hundred years after its demise – the Lighthouse features a museum and a recently added Children’s Peace Garden. As the impetus behind this amazing effort, Peg helped to raise over $300,000 to make her dream a reality.

Since its opening, the Oak Orchard Lighthouse museum has become one of the jewels in the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, welcoming visitors by tens of thousands from all over the world and all fifty states.

Al Capurso – Presently the Town of Gaines historian, Al is being honored for his many contributions prior to the appointment. One such effort was the naming of a small creek after pioneer Elizabeth Gilbert.

In early 2013, Al and his son Kenny noticed a creek along Brown Road in Gaines. They followed its path across Ridge Road to Carlton. It flows 6.5 miles northeast and connects with Marsh Creek about 2.4 miles south of Lake Ontario. After research showed that the stream was unnamed, Al lobbied to name it after a plucky early pioneer who was the first to settle on Ridge Road in Orleans County in 1807. After approval from the Federal Bureau of Geographic Names, Al hosted a dedication ceremony and even made the sign marking Gilbert Creek.

Al Capurso is pictured with a new historical marker that was unveiled Oct. 17 by a former one-room schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal. The schoolhouse was built in 1832 and is one of the oldest cobblestone buildings in the area.

More recently, Al has led a determined effort to save the cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road. The schoolhouse for District No. 2 was built in 1832 and served as a school until 1944.

It fell into disrepair and had long faded from public memory until Al took a hand in the matter and gathered a sympathetic crew who have cleaned, painted and repaired the centuries old structure. To ensure that the building is not forgotten again, Al worked to erect a historic marker on the site.

In addition to the three Heritage Heroes to be honored on April 29th, two special awards will be bestowed:

The Robert E. Waters Award for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to retired Town of Gaines historian Delia Robinson. An authority on cobblestone construction, Robinson is the author of Cobblestone Buildings of Orleans County and served as the resource librarian at the Cobblestone Society and Museum.

She is also author of Historical Amnesia, highlighting the contributions of many women in shaping Orleans County and was instrumental in having many historical markers put up in Orleans County that note contributions from women. She continues to give monthly historical lectures at Hoag Library called “Tea with Dee.”

Over the years, Dee has generously given of her time to speak to local groups, advocate for historic projects, and provide research support for others seeking to know more about their family tree.

The award in named for late Robert Waters, long-time publisher of the The Journal-Register in Medina. He was a champion of many local projects, including the saving of the Medina Armory. He was influential in the Medina Sandstone Society and was a Heritage Hero in 2014.

The C.W. “Bill” Lattin Award for Excellence in Municipal History will be awarded to Melissa Ierlan, Town of Clarendon Historian and President of the Clarendon Historical Society.

Melissa Ierlan, the Clarendon town historian and president of the Historical Society, unveils a historical marker on Sept. 21, 2014 for Hillside Cemetery, which in 2013 was named to National Register of Historic Places.

A historian not afraid to get her hands dirty, Melissa has put in many hours and lots of elbow grease to restore faded historical markers from throughout the area. Dismounting the signs, she has stripped them and meticulously repainted the signs the iconic blue and gold before replacing them.

Ierlan has also been instrumental in the effort to restore the beautiful red sandstone, gothic revival chapel at Hillside Cemetery in Holley. Designed by Rochester architect Addison Forbes, the Medina sandstone chapel was built in 1894. Due in part to her efforts, a grant of $126,210 was recently secured from New York State for the restoration fund.

Those selected as Heritage Heroes could be of any age but had to be living residents of Orleans County. No Posthumous nominations were accepted. History professionals and GCC employees were also not eligible for the award, nor were those serving on the award selection committees. The selection committees were made up of staff and students of Genesee Community College, community members and history professionals.

The award ceremony on April 29th at GCC in Albion is open to the public, but seating is limited. A reception will follow the ceremony featuring light refreshments. For more information on the awards or the ceremony, contact Jim Simon at jsimon@genesee.edu or Prof. Derek Maxfield at ddmaxfield@genesee.edu or by calling the Albion Campus Center at 585-589-4936.

Rental subsidies available for small businesses to move into downtowns

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 April 2016 at 12:00 am

$4,500 max to rent storefronts in Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina

Photo by Tom Rivers – Diane Blanchard, director of the Microenterprise Assistance Program, will manage $60,000 in downtown rental subsidies, plus $100,000 in grants available for small businesses. She is pictured on Main Street in Albion.

ALBION – The Orleans Economic Development Agency has money to entice businesses to move into the downtown business districts in Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina.

The EDA’s local development corporation voted Thursday to make $60,000 available in the next two years for downtown rental subsidies. Businesses can seek $3 per square foot annually if they move into the downtown. The EDA is capping the subsidies at $4,500 a year, the maximum for a 1,500 square foot space.

They subsidies aren’t available to businesses currently in the downtown. The fundign comes from a $200,000 state grant approved for the EDA last December. The EDA also has $100,000 in grants to share with small businesses (5 or fewer employees) that need working capital, equipment purchases or inventory. The grants are capped at $15,000 per recipient.

Those grants are targeted for businesses that completed the Microenterprise Assistance Program, which offers small business training. However, the EDA will consider start-up businesses and other small businesses that didn’t go through the EDA, said Jim Whipple, the EDA executive director.

The EDA ran a similar grant program about five years ago and gave $20,004 to help businesses with their rent, including seven in Medina, four in Albion and two in Holley. The subsidies then were capped at $3,000 per recipient.

Blanchard said the program should result in new commercial activity in vacant storefronts.

She is on a committee to decide the funding along with Whipple, and three members of the EDA’s Finance Committee.

The grant from the state also provides $40,000 to the EDA to administer the funding.

The EDA runs the MAP program providing small business training in a 10-week class. The spring class just started last week and includes 15 entrepreneurs.

For more on the EDA, click here.

Governor details $100 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative

Posted 7 April 2016 at 12:00 am

10 downtowns will receive $10 million each

Photo by Tom Rivers – This file photo from June 2013 shows the True Value Family Hardware building at the corner of Main and West Bank streets in downtown Albion.

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative in the Finger Lakes – a comprehensive approach to transform a designated downtown area ripe for growth into a vibrant neighborhood where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live and work.

The program, first presented in the Governor’s 2016 State of the State Address, will invest $10 million in a designated downtown in the Finger Lakes. The downtown will be selected by the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. (Editor’s Note: The Finger Lakes Council includes nine counties, including Orleans.)

“A thriving downtown can provide a tremendous boost to the local economy,” said Governor Cuomo. “This initiative will transform a select downtown neighborhood into a vibrant place for people to live, work and raise a family – which will also help attract new investments and businesses for years to come. The Regional Councils have been key to generating new opportunities for local economies, and I am excited to have them spearhead this new effort to build on that progress from the ground up.”

The downtown revitalization initiative complements “Finger Lakes Forward,” the region’s comprehensive blueprint to generate robust economic growth and community development. This transformative plan builds on the gains the Finger Lakes has made under the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, while further leveraging state investment to create urban centers that will cement the area’s legacy and position it as a major gateway, with strengths in optics, photonics, and imaging; agriculture and food production; and advanced manufacturing and technology.

Former New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales will chair the downtown revitalization initiative and lead the effort with a team of private sector experts and planners from the Department of State, with support from the Division of Homes and Community Renewal, as well as other state agencies. The state will assist the Finger Lakes in building strategic investment plans and identifying key projects consistent with the initiative’s goals.

Downtown Revitalization Initiative Chairman Cesar A. Perales said: “I am honored to be tasked by Governor Cuomo to chair this vital initiative. I look forward to working with the REDCs and the various State agencies to reinvigorate communities throughout New York State.”

The Finger Lakes Regional Council will weigh seven proposed criteria to select their nominee:

1. The targeted neighborhood should be compact and well-defined.

2. The downtown, or its center, should be of a size sufficient to support an active, year-round downtown and should have a sizeable existing or increasing population within easy reach for whom this would be the primary downtown.

3. The downtown should capitalize on prior, and catalyze future, private and public investment in the neighborhood and surrounding areas.

4. There should be recent or impending job growth within, or in close proximity to the downtown that can attract workers to the downtown, support redevelopment and make growth sustainable.

5. The downtown must contain properties or characteristics that contribute or that could contribute, if enhanced, to the attractiveness and livability of the downtown, including the presence of developable mixed-use spaces, housing at different levels of affordability and type, commercial and retail main street businesses, including healthy and affordable food markets, walkability and bikeability, and public parks and gathering spaces.

6. The downtown should contain or articulate how it can create policies that enhance quality of life, including the use of local land banks, modern zoning codes, complete streets plans, or transit-oriented development.

7. Local and community support must exist for revitalization of the downtown. There must be a commitment among local leaders and stakeholders to build and implement a strategic investment plan for the downtown.

Following Council nominations, the Finger Lakes will establish local planning committees with technical support from both private sector and state experts to build a Strategic Investment Plan for the designated downtown area. Completed plans will include identification of economic development, transportation, housing, and community projects that align with the community’s plan and can leverage and expand upon the state’s $10 million investment. Plans will be completed in early 2017.

To review the nominating criteria, click here.

Brian Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corporation, discussed the $100 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative to be shared with 10 communities. Stratton was in Albion today to discuss the new state budget. He said he thought Albion would be a good candidate for one of the $10 million downtown grants if the community can develop a compelling plan for using the money.

Accelerating Finger Lakes Forward

The state is accelerating “Finger Lakes Forward” with a $500 million investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. This funding will incentivize private business to invest in the region and leverage well over $2.5 billion to support up to 8,200 new jobs.

Since 2012, the state has invested more than $3.4 billion in the region to lay the groundwork for this comprehensive plan.

Today, unemployment is down to the lowest levels since before the Great Recession; personal and corporate income taxes are down; and businesses are choosing places like Rochester, Batavia and Canandaigua as a destination to grow and invest in.

More information about Finger Lakes Forward is available by clicking here.