The Clara S. Bacon School at 40 Henrietta Boulevard in Amsterdam, New York has been a hot topic for the past few years. The former elementary school with its circular design is nestled in a wooded section of the city known as Sassafras Park. The school has a sports field in back and sits next to an extensive wooden jungle gym built on the grounds of the city owned Sassafras Park. The once popular well manicured trails of Sassafras Park that led to picnic areas, an amphitheater and a woodland museum building have deteriorated. There is little is left of its original splendor, just a newly constructed the wooden jungle gym that bears the name.
Similarly, the Clara S. Bacon School has fallen into disrepair. The former school has been the home of the Whispering Pines Day Care Center that occupied the northern section for the past few years. The school was put on the market for sale and had a valid bid from the Chinese World Peace and Health Organization who paid a $50,000.00 down payment on the building. The offer was withdrawn because of the bigoted nature of the questions asked by citizens attending a required public meeting prior to the sale agreement and the questionable ownership of an access road to Sassafras Park through the school property. The money for the down payment still sits in an escrow account, with neither party having access until they can agree on terms.
Since then, the City School District started using the building for an alternative education program with four teachers, a teacher aide and a principal to accommodate those students who do not function well in the main high school setting. These students, for whatever reason, are disciplinary problems who have educational needs that are met by the smaller class sizes and personal attention they receive at the Bacon School. The students respond well to this setting and a large number graduate with a high school diploma and some a regents diploma.
The Bacon School has also become the adopted home of the Amsterdam Recreation Department who partnered with the Amsterdam School District and the Wishful Thinking group to create a basketball program, a summer camp program and a sports and after school program for our young people. The gym floor was refinished, walls painted and decorated from money donated by generous benefactors who realized the importance of having a safe place for our kids to learn to compete as athletes
I had the opportunity to photograph the Bacon School property and Sassafras Park early this spring on assignment from Bob Cudmore for his recent book. What I saw was a little disappointing. Graffiti adorned most of the back section of the Bacon School. I mentioned this to Amsterdam’s Recreation Director Rob Spagnola and suggested to him that it would be a positive gesture if the group Wishful Thinking organized a cleanup of the graffiti. Unfortunately this never happened.
I visited Bacon School again on September 15th, with 3rd Ward Alderman candidate Debra Baranello. We met Hännah Watermann, one of the alternative education teachers who was just back from a camping trip, bringing back some mushrooms harvested from a tree that she carved as an art project to show her students. Hännah was very passionate about her program and the students she teaches. She described the difficulty of getting needed maintenance and supplies for the school and told us she has bought paint for the walls of the building and classrooms. Hännah also had the same idea about the graffiti removal, suggesting it would be a good project for her students to gain a sense of self-pride. The alternative education program also accommodates students from the Broadalbin-Perth School District who have no program of their own.
You would think the Amsterdam School District would be very proud to be able to offer our young people all of this positive programming at the Clara S. Bacon School. Instead, they move forward with plans to vacate the building with a multi-million dollar renovation to move the District offices into the building. The plan involves lowering the gym height to build offices over it and to bus all of the Kindergarten classes to the Bacon School. This would mean the alternative education program that finally found a home would have to move back to the high school building, The after school and sports program would have to relocate and who knows what will happen to the Whispering Pines Day Care Center. Should we put up with this just so some bureaucrats can have nicer offices?
JUST SAY NO!
Listen to Amsterdam Board of Education member Gavin Murdoch describe the plan in the September 20, 2013 version of the podcast TSWNN: