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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 15, 2010

Hilltown swap

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — Three organizations will be rotating Helderberg properties in the coming months.

As the town of Westerlo moves into its new town hall at the old Westerlo School, Helderberg Christian School will vacate the premises for its new home at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Berne, which Families Together will be leaving once its six-year grant runs dry.

In a special election in May, Westerlo voters authorized Supervisor Richard Rapp to purchase the Westerlo School from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District. The town was divided over whether taxpayers could afford the purchase and renovations, though the town board had secured grant funding to put towards the project.

In previous months, BKW had decided not to renew its lease with Helderberg Christian School, which leased the building as classroom space for the last five years since BKW stopped using the building. As Westerlo moves in, Helderberg Christian School will move to St. John’s for the duration of a two-year lease, after which it will either renew its lease, or make use of the property it has been developing at the corner of Route 85 and Route 1.

Families Together was using money from a $9.4-million federal grant to fund its resource center housed in St. John’s. That money, which came from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will run out on Sept. 30.

Families Together works to support children and families of children, between birth and age 21, with social, emotional, or behavioral concerns. This includes giving psycho-social behavioral assessments, providing transportation to and from medical appointments, and acting as a support system for a child or parent in court, or a parent attending a school board meeting.

Crossing over

Joe Amedio, who recently became president of the Helderberg Christian School Board, said that the Westerlo Town Board gave the school until the end of July to move out of the old Westerlo School and into the church. HCS will be leasing the entire building, he said.

Amedio and Leslie Day, the Helderberg Christian School Board’s secretary, told The Enterprise on Monday why they are looking forward to the move.

St. John’s has six classrooms, unlike the Westerlo School, which had three actual classrooms, and two more makeshift classrooms: one on the stage in the auditorium, and one in the gym.

“They were originally Sunday school classrooms,” said Day of St. John’s rooms. “That’s why it’s so perfect for us.”

The church’s fellowship hall, an open, all-purpose room, will serve as the cafeteria.

“I’d say it’s almost as big as what we have, and the kitchen is three times the size as ours,” Day exclaimed.

The school currently has 26 students enrolled; close to a dozen families are waiting to hear where HCS is relocating before re-enrolling.

This re-location also means that the school will be able to reach out to a broader community, Amedio said.

“Our bus route provides for a 15-mile radius, so now we can reach down into Voorheesville, Altamont, Duanesburg,” he said. “Hopefully, through advertising, we can get the word down there. With the activity with the Westerlo School and all the publicity, it’s gotten us some new attention.”

That attention led to a phone call from Families Together, letting HCS know that funding was running out and that it would soon be vacating, and that St. John’s would fit the needs of HCS.

The two Lutheran churches in Berne consolidated in 2009 because of membership and money issues, leaving St. John’s open.

Family downsizing?

Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together, said this week that, though there will no longer be sufficient funds to maintain a family resource center in the Hilltowns, she hopes that the organization will have one of its supporting employees — a family partner — at BKW.

“We have been seeking out other funding to continue to support the program, but it’s hard in these economic times; all non-profits are hurting,” said Pierce. “But we’re going from a well-funded federal grant to local grassroots fund-raising, and it’s a difficult transition. Obviously, the amount of services and staff is going to significantly decline.”

Families Together had anticipated closing its Hilltowns center sooner, but a member item from Senator Neil Breslin’s office prevented that, Pierce said.

“The grant we have through SAMHSA is kind of like a bell curve,” Pierce explained. “It starts at a certain amount, and it goes up. Around years three and four, those are our best-funded years. In year five, our budget was reducing quite a bit, and now, we’re in year six. One of our options was to downsize, and one way of doing that was closing the Hilltown center. But, we received a member item from Senator Breslin, and that allowed us to keep the Hilltown center open.”

If Families Together does get another member item grant, it would be put towards sustaining the program countywide, she said, and could include a family partner working in the Hilltowns.

In development

In the meantime, HCS has been taking small steps towards eventually building its own school.

“You have to identify all your options,” said James DeForest, a Helderberg Christian School Board member. “St. John’s is kind of a way stop. Taking on a million-dollar building project, especially in this economic climate, is quite a substantial thing. So, we’re incrementally progressing with it. First, we cleared the land; then, we put in a rudimentary service road; then, we put in a well there. We have all our engineering specifications for the structure and the property in place.”

DeForest went on to say that the town of Westerlo has helped HCS through its transition out of the old Westerlo School, and emphasizes that there is no animosity between the school and the town.

“They’ve allowed us to store our materials in an allocated area of a building so we aren’t having to move in twice — rather than move it into storage, and then out of storage and into the facility. In common circumstances, I’m sure they could have charged us a nominal amount at least. But they’re doing this without any cost to the school, although they are closely overseeing everything that goes on there.”

He concluded, “Given the constrained time frame of the transition, we’re happy with how smoothly things are going.”

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