Finger Lakes Museum buys Branchport School

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
The Finger Lakes Museum, with support from local business people, has purchased the Branchport School Building.

Last Friday morning, the Board of Trustees of the Finger Lakes Museum voted to purchase the Branchport Elementary School from the Penn Yan Central School District for $200,000 and the deal was closed that afternoon at the Yates County Clerk’s Office.

The school has been vacant for several years due to school district consolidation.

Museum board president John Adamski said, “The original plan was for the Finger Lakes Visitors Association to purchase the school and lease it to the museum on a 5-year interim basis during the startup phase of the project, after which time the museum would move to its new quarters in Keuka Lake State Park. But we have since realized the long term potential of the building and grounds as a research and education center, directly affiliated with the museum. That’s 17,000 square feet that we don’t have to build in Keuka Lake State Park.” The two sites are about a mile apart.

The school was first proposed as a temporary museum headquarters by Keuka Lake site proponents during the search for a location to build the project in 2009. When Keuka Lake State Park—one of 19 sites then in contention—was chosen last April, the school was included in the deal.

Museum personnel occupied the building last summer and fall under an early occupancy agreement with the Town of Jerusalem while the FLVA pursued arrangements to purchase the property from the school district. The museum staff has moved to other quarters for the winter months to avoid heating the entire building for three staff members.

Adamski said, “At first we looked at the school as a temporary office and warehouse for artifacts and collections while the project was being designed and built. But after conducting program definition and market studies, we realized that we could have some initial museum exhibits and programming ready there as early as next summer.”

Plans now call for making investments into the school property to upgrade the heating and septic systems and to make the building more energy efficient. Converting the gym into a theater and auditorium is also being considered.

Adamski said that recent partnership discussions with officials at Keuka College confirmed the potential of the school property to become a research and education center, administered by the museum, the college, and other academic partners. “All of these factors contributed to our change in plans,” he said.

The purchase of the Branchport School was funded by a private mortgage to the museum from four local businessmen.

Dale Lane, Cliff Orr, Carl Schwartz, and Dave Wegman each contributed $50,000 toward the financing. Terms of the loan were not disclosed. The museum was represented by Geneva attorney, Brad Prozeller.         

The Penn Yan School board has established a tax reduction reserve fund using proceeds from the sale of the property.

The fund will be used to reduce real property taxes over up to 10 years.

Finger Lakes Museum board president John Adamski (third from left) presented a check for $200,000 to Doug Tomandl, assistant superintendent for business for the Penn Yan Central School District, as payment in full for the museum's purchase of the Branchport Elementary School. Local attorney Carl Schwartz (left) and museum project director Don Naetzker (right) also participated in the closing.