NECC considers its next move

NECC Teen Program staff Katie Cariello and Erin Chirevas volunteer at the Food Pantry.

NECC

NECC considers its next move

MILLERTON — On the last day of business of the year 2023, the North East Community Center (NECC) officially accepted a gift: the old Millerton Elementary School.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity,” said Christine Sergent, director of the NECC. The Community Center has been looking for a new home for years now, said Sergent, but it’s proved a difficult undertaking:

“It had to tick certain boxes, had to be in the village, walking distance, all of those kinds of things. And that’s just very difficult to identify here in Millerton. It just really didn’t exist. And then, poof, all of a sudden, there it was.”

NECC has been looking seriously for new properties — that is, running due diligence on various options — only in the last year or so, said Sergent.

“We had to do a lot of infrastructure development in the organization to strengthen ourselves financially and programmatically and staffing-wise and so forth, to get us to the point where we felt stable enough to take on what is going to be a big lift for us.” A big project like this, she said, “can pull you off course if you’re not careful.”

The building in question has more or less been on NECC’s radar as a possibility for the last 10 years, said Sergent. Then last spring, the building went on the market for $995,000.

NECC strongly considered it. However, after months of due diligence, the organization decided that the added costs of bringing the building up to code made the sticker price untenable; at a meeting with the board last October, the group officially closed down the possibility of buying the school.

“And then all of the sudden we got a phone call,” said Sergent: Morgan Coy and Richard Lanka of Particles Elementary LLC wanted to donate the Millerton Elementary School property to the NECC.

Growth at NECC

NECC has tripled in size in just the last three years. In the years before that, it had doubled in size. Finding a way to get all of its programs in one place will be challenging, said Sergent, but it’s also key to NECC’s ability to serve the community.

“To get us all into one location is really beneficial to our community, because we have so many different resources,” she said. “It helps for people to come in and have access transportation, but also access food and our childcare and so forth.

“But that’s now over 40 staff to have to bring together and all the programs, and all the things that come with it — the supplies, materials, things that need to be stored, you know, the kitchen to go with the child care center, all of that stuff into one location is quite a lot more than what it may have been 10 years ago when we were a staff of seven or eight.”

Getting all of the programs in one building will also, long-term, improve the organization’s economic health. NECC is currently spread out over four locations — “five if you include the programming we do at the school,” said Sergent — three of which NECC is renting.

“We’re paying in excess of $150,000 to $180,000 for these different locations. And that’s a sizable cost to us every year,” said Sergent.

Another important intention in having a new home is the ability to welcome anyone on any day. Before COVID-19, NECC was open to the public; anyone could walk in off the street seeking services or support. But the pandemic put an end to that kind of accessibility when the office went remote, said Sergent.

The pandemic also demanded another major change: NECC opened a food pantry. This is the reason that the main offices never fully reopened after the pandemic: the space that was once a reception area is now food pantry storage.

Next Steps

Irene Banning, chair of the board of the NECC, said: “Now comes a whole process where we really have to look at: Do we fit? Does it work? What do we need to do in order to make it, workable? And, can we raise the money?

“So there is a step by step process going to happen over time, at after which point we will know whether this will be our new home or not.”

With regard to the building, Banning said that the next step will be talking to experts who can help determine what requirements they’ll have to meet. The building was last used in 2012 or 2013, said Sergent, so NECC expects that there will be work required to bring it up to code, especially with regard to energy consumption requirements.

The building was worked on recently by Particles Inc. — “They worked hard during COVID to turn it into a boutique hotel,” said Sergent — so NECC believes that the roof, and utilities like electric and plumbing, are in a fairly good state.

In the coming days, NECC will also be exploring what will be required of it for zoning reviews — whether or not the intended use of the property conforms to zoning regulations, etc — and planning reviews with regards to the physical structures and land use requirements.

“[We’ll be meeting with] professionals who can tell us, you’re going to have to meet those requirements, but not those,” said Banning, and “what level of intervention is necessary in building,” so that ultimately they can “make determinations about cost and time. And those are crucial inputs into a decision-making process.”

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