When Willsboro’s new school was completed in 2001, the old school was left behind and eventually slated for demolition. However, the old school building — that first opened in 1927 — was given a second chance at life when Eli Schwartzberg saw the potential to turn it into something useful for the town.
Unlike some developers who might have preferred to start with a clean slate, Schwartzberg did not have the building completely remodeled. History was kept in mind during renovations and much of the building is recognizable with several features left intact. Schwartzberg had the building added to the US National Register of Historic Places so it will always remain.
On June 15, the new Champlain Valley Senior Community was opened to the public in a grand celebration. Thankfully it was one of the recently rare rain-free days! Staff in green shirts served cool drinks and snacks to the large crowd. I enjoyed some pink cotton candy while waiting outside for the ribbon cutting ceremony to begin. The Lake Placid band Crosswinds played in the grand stand by the Boquet River, filling the air with pleasant soft rock.
The ceremony began with the raising of the flag, donated to the building by Congressman Bill Owens, while the Willsboro Central School choir sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Eli Schwartzberg gave a speech explaining his vision, the work done to transform and preserve the building, and thanked many people involved, including mentioning that the representatives he worked with at all levels of government were helpful in ensuring that this project was completed. He remarked that it was an honor to save such an important building and expressed his hope that the school will live on with a new purpose under the direction of Eddie Holland, who will serve as the Executive Director.
The new senior living center creates a much needed option for seniors who wish to stay in the Adirondacks. It will also provide new jobs for the community, and many are optimistic that the Champlain Valley Senior Community will encourage further development in downtown Willsboro.
Each of the government representatives present (Senator Betty Little, Congressman Bill Owens, and Assemblyman Dan Stec, and former State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward) gave a short speech after Schwartzberg and praised the new Senior Community Center. Then the ribbon was cut, and the building was officially open.
I toured the building for over an hour; several times retracing my steps to go check out how areas I remembered from my student days at the school had changed. Throughout the pristine new facility I noted familiar remnants from the building where I attended school until sixth grade.
I spent the entirety of my elementary education in the old school and all of my high school eduction in the new one. However, I have many memories of my time at that school and as I toured the building I remembered where each of my classrooms were. It was nostalgic experience for me, and I can only imagine that it was more so for the older generations I saw touring.
The best surprise was seeing that several murals had been preserved on the walls. One mural, located outside the dining room (formerly the gymnasium) and next to my old sixth grade classroom, had completely escaped my memory until I saw it again. The entire wall was painted blue, and each class attending school that final year was listed by their future graduation year in yellow.
Seeing my name on that wall made me very happy. The last graduation year listed was 2013, so it appears that all the students who attended the old school, however briefly, will graduate this month. How appropriate that the building should reopen at the same time.
If you missed the grand opening you can schedule a private tour of the building. I really recommend that former students take a chance to reminisce.
The building offers 74 rooms, including a special wing for those with memory-related issues. They are still accepting applications. Check out the Champlain Valley Senior Community website and their Facebook page to learn more about the organization. Or call 518-817-9108.
Update: Local Media Coverage
The official opening of the new Champlain Valley Senior Community gained much media attention. Mountain Lake PBS did a short piece, which you can see in the video below, covering the transformation of the historic school and interviewing a couple locals, including a former classmate of mine!
You can also read these nice articles to get even more perspective:
Below check out a gallery of photos taken during the grand opening.
- Willsboro Outdoor World Opens (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Old Willsboro School Reopens as Senior Living Center Tomorrow (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Essex High School (essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Community turns out to celebrate new life for old school (denpubs.com)
- Willsboro assisted-living facility to open (pressrepublican.com)