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Northern Lights School to buy former Lake Colby School building

The former Lake Colby School, at 26 Trudeau Road in Saranac Lake, is to be bought by Northern Lights School. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — Northern Lights School plans to buy the former Lake Colby School building from the Saranac Lake Central School District this spring, securing a permanent location for the Waldorf-inspired, nature-based school for infants through 5-year-olds here after 16 years of searching.

Northern Lights School board President Julia Goren said the school has signed a contract for the purchase with the district and has a tentative closing date set for March 1 on the property at 26 Trudeau Road.

The Saranac Lake Board of Education unanimously voted to accept the $184,250 bid in December 2020.

Goren said NLS has a commitment from a lender, Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union, for a 20-year mortgage.

“Working with Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union has been fantastic,” school Treasurer Scott McKim said in a press release. “They are local, and have really gone out of their way for us.”

“It is not necessarily the easiest time for us to make this big leap, in the middle of the pandemic and all of the challenges the last year have brought for us, financially and otherwise,” Goren said. “But we really saw this as an opportunity that we had to leap at because it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Both parties said they are happy with the potential sale.

Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox said the board did not want to sell the property to just anyone.

“When we sold the Lake Clear School (in 2018), the board of education wanted to make sure that when the building was sold it was sold to be a value to the community, and they felt the same way about the Lake Colby School,” Fox said.

The district sold the former Lake Clear School to Ampersand Biosciences for $132,000 in July 2018.

“It’s a dream come true for Northern Lights School,” Goren said in a press release. “There’s no better place for us than a former school, and we think there is no better use for a former school building than to be a future one.”

She said the school plans to open its new doors at the Lake Colby location in September.

Northern Lights School was founded in Wilmington in 1996 and moved to Saranac Lake in 2005, setting up in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church on Church Street.

This was only supposed to be a temporary location, but finding a building that meets all the requirements and codes for a school is difficult, Goren said.

Over a year ago the church told Goren it wants to use its basement space again for Sunday School programs. Goren said this sped up the search, and they were fortunate the Lake Colby School property opened up.

She said the church will allow NLS to conduct summer classes there until it officially can move into the Lake Colby School building.

“The First Presbyterian Church has been NLS’ home since we moved to Saranac Lake, and we are profoundly grateful for their partnership and hospitality,” Goren said in a press release. “We would not be able to enter this new chapter without the support that they have provided over the last 16 years.”

“We celebrate with NLS the acquisition of the Lake Colby School property, which will provide much-needed classroom and outdoor space for years to come,” the Rev. Joann White, pastor of the church, said in a press release. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

“Additional classroom space will allow for increased enrollment, while additional land will expand opportunities for outdoor play, a critical component of the NLS philosophy,” board member Ben Hamelin wrote in a press release.

Goren said the school is currently in an unusual year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, and only has around 23 students enrolled. She hopes next year to enroll 38 students and grow class sizes more in the future.

She said staff is also low this year because on top of restrictions on class sizes, several teachers chose to take a leave of absence to help their own kids learn from home.

The Saranac Lake Central School District last used the Lake Colby School building for kindergarten and pre-K classes, and before that for elementary grades. For the last 10 years, private organizations have rented the space for early childhood education programming. Currently, Adirondack Community Action Programs’ HeadStart preschool and Adirondack Arc’s Children’s Corner occupy the building.

Goren said NLS will share the building with HeadStart. Children’s Corner left the building this week. Goren said this was an Adirondack Arc decision to leave early and that her school did not push them out.

NLS is licensed through the state Office of Children and Family Services and will need OCFS to inspect the new location. Short-term, she plans to add classroom ramps, paint and playground upgrades.

Long-term, she said there will need to be capital repairs done that NLS will raise money for. Mainly, she pointed out the existence of asbestos in the soffit of the roof eaves. These are high, outdoor features, so she said there is not currently a danger of kids coming in contact with them.

Hamelin said NLS worked with Realtor Matt Szeliga from Mountain Run Realty and attorney Jennifer Briggs of Briggs Law to finalize the purchase.

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