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EDUCATION

Auburn center not closing, contrary to rumor caused by program cuts

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Gavras Center 2

The E. John Gavras Center in Auburn.

I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

An Auburn center is facing a rumor that it's closing after limiting some of its programs due to new challenges. While the challenges are real, however, the center isn't going anywhere.

The E. John Gavras Center in Auburn has recently been asked if it's closing by a local foundation that's a major funder of the center, said Robert Padula, its community liaison. The center has also been asked the same question by Cayuga County officials and the Auburn Enlarged City School District. Padula isn't sure of the source of the rumor, only that the center has encountered it several times.

"That's significant to a nonprofit that relies on funding," he told The Citizen. "The bottom line is, we are not closing."

Whatever the source, Padula believes the rumor started because the center has discontinued its toddler day care program and limited the number of special needs students that it serves.

Padula said the program was discontinued because the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, in June, raised the weekly rate at which parents pay for day care in most of the state from $206 to $275. Because of that "unconscionable" 33% increase, he believes, the center was only able to sign up three children for this fall's session, compared to the usual 20.

"Our thought was that discouraged a lot of people from seeking child care," he said. "It wasn't economically feasible to pay out that kind of money to watch their child during the day."

Meanwhile, the center has decreased the number of integrated preschool classrooms it operates from three to two. The classrooms, which have eight special needs children and eight neurotypical children, must also have a teacher who is certified in special education due to state requirements. But one of those teachers left Gavras, Padula said, and it hasn't been able to find a replacement. As a result, this fall is the first time since the center's preschool opened in 1974 that it hasn't been able to serve every special needs student referred by a local school district, he continued.

The center itself opened in 1953, making next year its 70th anniversary. While the time since COVID-19 has been challenging, Padula said Gavras has every intention of being around another 70 years.

The center continues to offer early intervention services like speech and language therapy, clinical services like occupational therapy, and programs like day habilitation for adults with physical and/or intellectual disabilities at the center's Crane Brook Drive location in Aurelius. It is also planning a $17.8 million renovation of the former Cayuga Elementary School into a 47-unit housing development. Nine of the units will house high-functioning adults with intellectual disabilities, with support services arranged by Gavras. Padula said ground is scheduled to break in March 2023.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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