By Allison Collins
OTEGO – Roughly 80 people attended a public hearing Monday at Unatego High School to hear representatives from each of the district’s four potential buyers for the vacant Otego Elementary building. The decision was made to close the building in late 2017.
Officials from the Kildonan School, ValuAg with AgZeit, Two Plus Four Construction and LLP Management delivered four 30-minute presentations, followed by an opportunity for public input.
Unatego Superintendent Dr. David Richards said members of the district’s board of education will wait until Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting to determine the winning proposal.
Binghamton-based consultant and co-founder of ValuAg James Dutcher outlined his plans to convert the building into equal parts indoor farm and veteran rehabilitation site. ValuAg’s is offering $300,000.
Dutcher, whose similar business model in Endicott took root a year ago, extolled the uptick of regional “ag tourism” and the virtues of “going with the FLOH – Fresh, Local, Organic and Healthy.”
Using catch basins, dehumidifiers and rooftop solar panels, Dutcher said, the building would be outfitted to produce high-volume, GMO-free leafy greens, herbs, fruit and vegetables year-round from an initial 11 grow spaces.
The crops, he said, would be grown in first-floor classrooms staffed by an estimated 12 veterans and community members. Within five years, the company foresees employing 100 people.
Each classroom, Dutcher said, would accommodate 30 growing units, equal to five physical acres of production land each. The site would see pickups Monday through Friday, he said, with traffic from six to 12 refrigerated trucks.
Dutcher said the second floor would be dedicated to six veteran residences and an onsite healthcare facility for occupants.