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The former Willsboro Central School, which was built in 1927 and closed in 2001, has been converted to the Champlain Valley Senior Community, a 63-bed assisted living facility for seniors that opened last month. Photo: Chris Knight, via <a href="http://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/page/content.detail/id/537874/Converted-school-fills-void-for-seniors.html">Adirondack Daily Enterprise</a><br />
The former Willsboro Central School, which was built in 1927 and closed in 2001, has been converted to the Champlain Valley Senior Community, a 63-bed assisted living facility for seniors that opened last month. Photo: Chris Knight, via Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Old Willsboro school reborn for seniors

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The old community school in a small Essex County town has been renovated and converted into an assisted living center for senior citizens.

The Champlain Valley Senior Community opened last month in the former Willsboro Central School, which closed 12 years ago and sat abandoned for several years. Its owner and developer says the $6 million project will help fill a growing senior housing void in the region.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

It's late on a weekday morning as Saranac Lake native Eli Schwartzberg walks casually through the main floor of the Champlain Valley Senior Community. He's giving a tour of the new 63-bed assisted living facility.

"In this room here, we have a vintage Hershey's ice cream cooler, and we have eight different kinds of ice cream," he said. "We have a popcorn machine. We have a milkshake maker. It's a little café. It's for happy hour, ice cream socials, and this will turn into a movie theater part time."

The combination cafe-ice cream parlor-movie theater is just one of the facility's amenities. It also has a beauty salon, a chapel, a doctor's office and a large dining hall with a stage for concerts and shows.

"By having the ice cream parlor, a movie theater, by having cocktails, creating a sense of place and character and connection to downtown Willsboro, my goal was to create a place that people will choose to live and they will really enjoy their golden years," Schwartzberg said.

Constructed in 1927, the three-story, red-brick building overlooks the Boquet River. It served as Willsboro's school for more than 70 years until it closed in 2001.

Schwartzberg bought the property in 2008.

"They built a new school, and they needed a use for this building," he said. "I came along and just saw a diamond in the rough. There was a lot of peeling paint, leaking roofs and deterioration, but the structure of the building was really solid."

Eli Schwartzberg, owner and developer of the Champlain Valley Senior Community, stands next to one of the old doors from the Willsboro Central School, several of which were preserved during the extensive renovations of the building. Photo: Chris Knight, via <a href="http://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/page/content.detail/id/537874/Converted-school-fills-void-for-seniors.html">Adirondack Daily Enterprise</a>
Eli Schwartzberg, owner and developer of the Champlain Valley Senior Community, stands next to one of the old doors from the Willsboro Central School, several of which were preserved during the extensive renovations of the building. Photo: Chris Knight, via Adirondack Daily Enterprise
The building underwent extensive renovations. Contractors removed asbestos from the old school, stripped the flooring and took out old windows and doors, essentially gutting the building.

But not everything was removed. The building is filled with countless reminders of its school days. Student murals were preserved. The benches from the school's basketball court are now seats in the center's chapel.

"This was the original classroom door," Schwartzberg says during a stop on the tour. "If someone went to school here, they're going to come and say, 'This is Mrs. Smith's room, and she taught social studies.' All this stuff, this was purposely left. This is the history. This is what makes the building so great."

Assisted living is for seniors who need help with everyday tasks like bathing, dressing and taking medications.

Schwartzberg said this kind of senior housing is in demand in the North Country.

"It's no secret that there's a very large aging demographic in the North Country, and a lot of people have to leave the area to get the services they need," Schwartzberg said. "I saw an issue with that. Why should people who have lived here all their life, gone to school here, and paid taxes here need to leave here if they need someone to manage their medication, drive them to the doctor? People in the Adirondacks should be able to have their cake and eat it, too."

Schwartzberg isn't the only one who thinks there's a growing market for assisted living in the region. Last year, Adirondack Health officials announced plans to partner with other organizations to build assisted living and senior housing facilities, while also cutting the number of beds at their Lake Placid nursing home from 120 to 60. Hospital officials said last month they're still pursuing those options.

The high cost of nursing home care, and the shortfall in reimbursement for it, is what has sparked a push for more independent and assisted living, according to Carmen Carpentier, director of Lake Forest Senior Living Community, an independent living center in Plattsburgh. A large population of baby boomers who want to "age in place" is also pushing the change, she said.

"The generations following them are much smaller," she said. "That's part of the thing that's driving the industry to say, 'Let's keep them in their homes. Let's keep them in a retirement community where they're supported.'"

Back in Willsboro, Eli Schwartzberg said the Champlain Valley Senior Community is off to a good start. As of last month, deposits had been placed for roughly 25 percent, of the center's rooms, which Schwartzberg said is better than his market studies projected for its opening. Ten residents had moved in as of last week.

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