Champlain Valley Senior Community Executive Director Eddie Holland welcomes people into the new facility during its June 15 grand opening. The building was the former Willsboro Central School, with many former students and teachers visiting to see what had become of the site.
Teresa Sayward stood where she had once watched over her children and grandchildren as they played basketball in perhaps the most famed North Country gym, “the pit.”
Now, she looked out over a carpeted gathering space with a small kitchen area, dinner tables and a stage for shows and events, all part of the transformation of the former Willsboro Central School building into the Champlain Valley Senior Community.
“They have done just an amazing job,” said Sayward, who has been involved in the resurrection of the building as a town supervisor and member of the state Assembly before her retirement last year. “I was here when there was a hole in the ceiling and have seen the progress throughout, and it is just breathtaking.”
Sayward was just one of many who walked the halls of the former school, now transformed into a senior living facility under the development of Eli Schwartzberg, remembering where their classrooms were while taking in the new rooms and facilities that make up the renovation during an open house and grand opening ceremony June 15.
“The first thing that I had to do was find my old classroom,” Lorilee Sheehan, who taught at the school, said. “It was great to see my name and my three kids’ names on the wall. It’s just breathtaking.”
“It is unbelievable what Eli has been able to do,” Willsboro School Board member Bruce Hale said. “His attention to detail and preservation is what makes this what it is. They went above and beyond what they had to do to maintain aspects of the school.”
“It was a longer journey than I had planned, but the outcome is greater than I had ever dreamed,” Schwartzberg said during the opening ceremony. “I am so glad to see such a tremendous outpouring of support for this. I know how dear this building is for so many in the community who went to school here. I hope that you can be proud of what has been done here.”
Sayward said she was pleased that someone stepped up to take on the challenge of renovating the building.
“This could have been lost very easily to our community,” she said. “Without the vision of the school board at the time of the sale and the support of the community, this building would be just as it was, only worse.”
The building was closed as a school in 2001, with its youngest students at the time of the closure now preparing to graduate as members of the Class of 2013 June 21. Present at the opening of the new Willsboro Central School was then Gov. George Pataki, who was also on hand for the re-opening of the former school site.
“I think that this is tremendous not just for Willsboro, but for Essex County and the North Country,” Pataki said. “I would be in town with Libby and we would see the building and think that there has there has got to be some kind of creative reuse and now we have it and it is something that the community can be proud of as well as Eli.”
Schwartzberg said that representatives at all levels of government played a key role in turning his plans into reality.
“When I needed help, these officials who represent this area were there for me,” he said.
“This is just a really good use of a community resource,” Congressman Bill Owens said. “It puts an asset back into the community and this is something that we need to do in lots of other communities.”
“It is so exciting to see that this great school is now getting such great usage in a new life,” state Sen. Betty Little said.
“The extra mile that Eli went to save the history and preserve the memories of the community is something that should be treasured and honored,” Sayward said. “He could have gutted this building and done this in a much less expensive way, but he did not.”
“Just the reuse of this fantastic school building in the heart of the Willsboro community is a great thing,” Essex County IDA Director Carol Calabrese said. “It is just an honor to be a small part of this. Eli is a smart businessman, but he is also kind-hearted and this has just been a great economic development project.”
“Eli has such an infectious enthusiasm and determination and it was fun to work with him on this project,” Housing Assistance Program of Essex County Director Alan Hipps said.
The community will be run by Eddie Holland, who will serve as the executive director.
“Being able to open a building like this and provide a service to this region is amazing,” Holland said. “It is an absolute honor to be a part of this.”