Vacant since 2002, old CF high school goes on sale again

More than a dozen years after a New York City developer bought the old Chenango Forks High School and announced plans for senior housing, the still-empty building is back on the market.

Those plans never materialized, and the building has suffered damage from the elements and vandalism from trespassers in the intervening years. The property’s listing has led to new hopes for revitalization.

Gia Kirby, who now lives in Binghamton but grew up in Chenango Forks and attended elementary school there, said it’s tough for the people who passed through the doors to see it in its current state.

“It’s just in terrible disrepair now,” she said. “A lot of us have gone in the building through doors that were already open, and the place is very haunting because that’s where we had our childhood.”

Kirby worried that people entering the unsecured building could be injured or cause more serious damage. Those fears are warranted.

In 2013, a half-dozen teenagers were charged with trespassing in the building, and a fire thought to have been started by a homeless person camping inside caused minor damage in 2010, according to Press & Sun-Bulletin archives.

Kip Herner, assistant chief of the Chenango Forks Fire Company, said his crews had not been called there in a while before this past weekend, when people inside the gym started a bonfire and one person fell 12 feet through an opening in the floor.

“We’ve never been called before it’s gotten out of hand,” he said. “In that one [last weekend] we had to give aid and put out the fire.”

The school on Route 79 in the Town of Barker opened in 1929, expanded as enrollment grew through the 1960s and was repurposed as an elementary when the district built a new high school in 1967. It was renamed Charlotte Kenyon Elementary School in 1978 to honor a woman who taught there more than 40 years.

The Chenango Forks Central School District vacated the Kenyon school in March 2002 and moved its 477 students in grades three through five into a new building near the middle and high schools. The district sold the building for $40,000 to Blackbird Inc. of New York City, and held a public auction for classroom materials that didn’t make the move.

In May of that year, according to Press & Sun-Bulletin archives, Blackbird President Joe Cornacchia presented the Town of Barker with a $5 million revitalization plan that would include up to 100 senior housing units, and a restaurant, theater and health club that would be open to the public.

At the time, Cornacchia told the town it could be “a catalyst for other businesses.”

Phone calls to the listed number for Blackbird Inc. in New York City went unanswered. A request for comment sent via certified mail to the address was returned as undeliverable.

Broome County historian Gerald Smith said the school was one of the first around which a sense of community was created, when the central school district concept took hold and students began attending class with their neighbors.

“Think of the Village of Whitney Point or the hamlet of Chenango Forks, those schools are the focal points, especially Chenango Forks,” he said. “That was the largest structure in the community. The school was the focus, whether it was for a school event or another function being held in the gymnasium.”

Smith himself has a history with the building, and wrote about it in this newspaper last year. His father graduated from the high school, and he attended grade school at Kenyon. During most of the school’s active years, Chenango Forks was much less suburban than it is now. Smith recalled sitting in a classroom watching deer cross the road.

“I joke that we had to scrape the cow manure off our shoes before we went into the school,” he said. “It wasn’t that far from the truth. We were farm kids, we’d go to school after doing or morning chores.”

The three-story, 90,000 square foot building on 10.4 acres, assessed at $60,000, is on sale for $285,000. Kirby likened the school to the former Endicott Johnson Shoe Corp. facilities — legacies of the region’s past that are worth keeping intact but animating with a new purpose.

“It was a place of thousands of wonderful memories,” she said. “I would love to see it made into senior housing. That would be good for Chenango Forks, it could use the development.”