It was January 2016. Wilmorite and Peninsula Pacific, the entities behind the $440 million del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, held a beam signing ceremony. State and local elected officials attended and added their names to the imposing steel beam.
Del Lago was nothing more than a dirt lot at the time. Construction crews had started work on the foundation and structure, but weren't far along.
Now, after a year of work, del Lago's casino is nearly 100 percent complete. Jeff Babinski, executive vice president and general manager of del Lago, said there's some minor work that needs to be done before the grand opening Wednesday. But the casino is essentially a finished product.
Three days before del Lago opens, The Citizen was allowed to tour the casino and provide a look inside New York's latest destination gaming resort.
Del Lago's 94,000-square-foot gaming floor boasts 2,001 slot machines and 89 table games, including 12 in the casino's poker room.
For slot machine players, there is a variety of games, such as Candy Shop, Mixed Fruit Magic and Valentines Day. A vast majority of the slot machines are on the gaming floor, with a handful of games in the high limit room.
The table games include blackjack, craps and roulette. The poker room on the southern side of the casino offers a more intimate environment, with comfortable lighting and televisions for additional entertainment.
The slot machines occupy most of the space on the gaming floor, with the table games spread throughout the facility. For example, outside of the poker room you can find blackjack, craps and roulette tables on the south side of the building. On the eastern side of the casino near The Vine, del Lago's entertainment venue, there are more table games.
For players with deeper pockets, a high limit area features select table games and slot machines.
A couple of the table games near The Vine sport a different pattern than the traditional layout you would see in a casino. The tables feature advertising for upcoming concerts at The Vine. For now, the tables promote rock group Bad Company's concert on Feb. 10 — the first at the 2,400-seat venue — rapper Flo Rida's Feb. 11 performance. (Bad Company's concert has sold out.)
Babinski said the promotional graphics will be updated to advertise upcoming concerts and comedy shows at The Vine.
While minor work is wrapping up on the rest of the casino, most of the remaining construction is focused on The Vine.
During The Citizen's tour Sunday, construction crews continued to work inside the entertainment hall. Babinski said The Vine will be ready for Bad Company's concert.
So far, del Lago has announced several comedy shows and concerts at The Vine. The acts range from Bad Company and Flo Rida to comedians Bill Engvall and Larry The Cable Guy. The casino recently added country music acts Trace Adkins and Dustin Lynch to the lineup.
Outside The Vine, there's a lounge area with a full bar for patrons. Televisions provide an alternative to gaming and the entertainment inside the concert venue.
The Vine's bar offers a full menu of alcoholic beverages, including 16 beers on tap. Many of the beers are either brewed in New York or produced by New York-based breweries, including Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse and Southern Tier Brewing Company in Chautauqua County.
There's a touch of Cayuga County inside del Lago.
Savor New York — MacKenzie Childs at del Lago features select items from the Aurora-based company's collection and its Jay Strongwater brand.
John Ling, CEO of Aurora Holdings, which owns MacKenzie-Childs, told The Citizen in September that del Lago approached the company about opening a retail outlet inside the casino. The offer interested the company, mainly due to the proximity to its base of operations.
One due to the location being close to our headquarters and being in an area with the customer base that's very familiar with our product, and one that is most likely coming to that area because of the draw of the casino, but also the draw of the Finger Lakes region, which we're so very much an important part of," Ling said.
There are several MacKenzie-Childs products available in Savor New York. The shop will also offer tastings of New York-made cheeses and craft beverages, such as beer and wine. There will be a rotation of breweries, wineries and other craft beverage producers featured in the store.
Del Lago has an array of dining options for its patrons.
If you want a quick meal, the food court, which is located near Savor New York, has three options: Ciccino's Pizzeria & Paninoteca, Moe's Southwest Grill and Smashburger.
Moe's and Smashburger are chains operated by a Rochester-area franchisee. Ciccino's is a Finger Lakes-based pizzeria with existing locations in Geneva and Waterloo.
For more of an upscale dining experience, the 201-seat Portico by Fabio Viviani offers an old-world Italian menu with chops, steaks and seafood. Viviani, a celebrity chef who appeared on Bravo's "Top Chef," a reality TV show, will have a hands-on role with the restaurant that bears his name.
Portico is equipped with a luxurious bar and comfortable seating for guests. And it offers a full view of the gaming floor.
The Farmer's Market Buffet has plenty of options for guests. There will be Asian cuisine and Mexican offerings. Fine meats will be grilled and served daily. Desserts, including gelato made in house, will be served.
Like Portico by Fabio Viviani, the buffet will also serve locally sourced foods.
If players are looking to just relax and enjoy a beverage, the bars in Portico and The Vine are options. So, too, is Centrifico, a lounge area located in the center of the gaming area.
Patrons can have drinks in Centrifico, play video poker at the bar and watch television. Since it's right off the gaming floor, it's can give players a break from the hustle and bustle of the casino.
The Sociale will be another dining option for visitors. The restaurant will offer a cafe-style menu and a bar.
The casino is complete, but construction continues on the interior of the 205-room hotel, which is still on track to open this summer, Babinski said.
The hotel will also be home to a 10,000-square-foot spa, which will have 17 treatment rooms, a boutique shop and salon.
The resort is linked, so patrons who stay at the hotel will have easy access to the casino and other amenities. Portico and the Sociale are located near the hotel wing of the facility.
Del Lago hired 1,500 employees to work in the casino. An additional 300 employees will be hired to staff the hotel once it opens this summer.
Figures provided to The Citizen show more than 15 percent of del Lago's staff — roughly 230 employees — are from Cayuga County.
The casino held three dealer school sessions to train hundreds of workers who will staff the table games on the gaming floor. More than 240 people successfully completed dealer school, exceeding del Lago's goal of having 200 dealers trained to work at the blackjack, craps, poker and roulette tables.
SENNETT — A 52-year-old Weedsport man has died after being struck by a vehicle in the town of Sennett, according to New York State Police.
Gary Reno was walking in the roadway along state Route 34 Sunday night when he was struck by a vehicle at around 8:15 p.m. just north of Turnpike Road, Investigator Anthony Gower said.
Mia Sara Loiacono, 19, of Weedsport, was driving northbound on State Route 34 when she hit Reno. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
State police, the Sennett Fire Department and TLC Ambulance responded and investigators were called to reconstruct the accident. The Department of Transportation was also on hand as the road was closed until around 2:30 a.m.
"At this point in time, there is no criminal aspect to this and it doesn't appear that there will be," Gower said, noting that it appeared alcohol and drugs were not involved. "But it's still an ongoing investigation."
The crash occurred on April 9, 2016, when Campagna's vehicle crossed into the southbound lane on Route 34 near Willow Brook Road in the town of Fleming and hit a pickup truck head-on.
One-month-old Kasey Potter was a passenger in the pickup truck. He died after being transported to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse.
Campagna — who had a blood alcohol content of .08 percent and was under the influence of marijuana at the time — was arrested and charged with 11 felonies, five misdemeanors, one violation and one traffic infraction. However, he accepted a plea deal late last year.
Family and friends of both the defendant and the victim packed the courtroom Tuesday for Campagna's sentencing where several people addressed the court, including Kasey's mother, 21-year-old Kirsten Marie Foisia-Burgman.
"It's hard to describe the feeling of what we've gone through," she said.
Foisia-Burgman and Dakota Potter had been driving back from her mother's birthday celebration in Fulton with their baby when the crash occurred. And while Dakota was unharmed, Foisia-Burgman was seriously injured in the crash, suffering severe damage to her pelvis, which may prevent her from bearing more children.
"(Kasey) was my first child and to know he might be my last is even worse," she said. "My son was stolen from me at 4 weeks old. I can't pity anyone for it."
Campagna asked Kasey's family for forgiveness, crying and expressing remorse before the court.
"All I can hope for is forgiveness, but I don't expect it," he said. "I'm a monster to them and I don't blame them for that because I did a monstrous thing."
Campagna and his girlfriend, Amanda Vasco, had been driving back from The Haunt, a nightclub in Ithaca, when he struck Potter's truck April 9, Cayuga County Assistant District Attorney Diane Adsit said. Neither Campagna nor Vasco suffered serious injuries in the crash.
In addition to being intoxicated and under the influence of marijuana, Adsit said police discovered nearly 200 containers of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, in Campagna's car. More than 100 of those containers had been used.
"We can't prove that he used (laughing gas) that night because by the time he was tested it wouldn't have been in his system anymore," she said. "But the fact that he had so many of them in his car — both used and unused — shows he has used this stuff in and around his car, perhaps while he's driving."
Adsit also added that Campagna had a history of substance abuse as he has been arrested four times for unlawful possession of marijuana and was convicted of driving while ability impaired in 2003.
Campagna was sentenced Tuesday to an indeterminate term of five to 20 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide and four to 12 years for aggravated vehicular assault. He was also sentenced to six months in jail for misdemeanor DWI and ordered to pay more than $2,000 in fines and surcharges. All sentences will run concurrent to one another.
In a press release, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said although Campagna will be eligible for parole in five years, "based upon past experience there is very little chance that he will be released on parole before his conditional release date ... in 13 1/3 years."
Upon his release, Campagna will be subject to a five-year term of post-incarceration probation with an ignition interlock device order. His license will also be revoked for a minimum of one year.
"As the victims stated, there is simply no sentence that will bring back beloved Kasey Potter," Budelmann wrote in the release. "The victims and this office hope that the parole board agree that this defendant has proven too dangerous to (be) let out any sooner than required."
"I'm so sorry and I will always be sorry," Campagna said in court. "I intend to do everything I can to make it right."
A driver who refused to stop for police in Auburn Friday night crashed a vehicle that appeared to match the description of one reported to be driven by a man who asked a girl to get into his truck Friday morning.
The Auburn Police Department was contacted just before 3 p.m. Friday by the mother of a girl who said that a man had asked her to get into a vehicle earlier in the day. Police then issued a bulletin to area law enforcement to be on the lookout for a gold pickup truck that was missing its tailgate.
Police said Friday afternoon that not enough information was available to issue a statement on the incident, but at about 8 p.m., an officer making a traffic stop of a gold pickup truck near Oak Creek Town Homes on Quill Avenue reported that the driver refused to stop.
The driver of the truck took Chapman Avenue to South Street and eventually crashed into some small trees down an embankment on Osborne Street across from Logan Street near Mill Street Dam.
The driver was reported to have suffered a cut on his face and was taken, accompanied by police officers, to Auburn Memorial Hospital.
Several police cars had converged on the scene of the crash, and onlookers in vehicles and on foot were in the area as a tow truck pulled the smashed pickup truck from the edge of the Owasco River.
Additional details were not available Friday night.
An Auburn man was arrested Wednesday after officers found several envelopes of heroin while he was parked outside of a Dunkin' Donuts, the Auburn Police Department said.
Charles E. Henry, Jr., 33, of 55 Market St., Apt. 9, was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony.
APD Sgt. Tim Spingler said the patrol division responded to a call around 8:20 a.m. that a man was sleeping in his car outside of the restaurant on Grant Avenue. Police discovered 32 full glassine envelopes of heroin in plain view in the center console of his vehicle along with a large amount of cash, Spingler said.
Henry was arraigned at Auburn City Court and was transferred to Cayuga County Jail on $10,000 cash/$20,000 bond.
A proposal in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2017-18 executive budget would reduce the visitation schedule at New York's 17 maximum security correctional facilities and result in the elimination of 39 positions.
Under the governor's plan, the number of days visitors are allowed at maximum security prisons would be reduced from seven to three. The figure would be nearly identical to the visitation schedule at the state's medium security facilities, which currently allow visitors on weekends and holidays.
The proposal would allow the state to eliminate 39 positions and save $2.6 million.
At Auburn Correctional Facility, the lone maximum security prison in Cayuga County, visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, including holidays. The same policy is in place at nearby Five Points Correctional Facility in Seneca County.
For medium security prisons, such as Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia, visiting hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
"Weekend visitations are the most popular as many families have to travel long distances," said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget.
"This change — which comes with the expanded use of video conferencing — would be a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars and match the preexisting policy at medium security (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision) facilities."
Peters added that visits would be offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The video conferencing component — "tele-visiting," he said — would be scheduled at a certain date and time. The visitor would go to a designated site with the necessary equipment for a video conference with an inmate.
Jack Beck, director of the Correctional Association of New York State's Prison Visiting Project, criticized Cuomo's proposal.
"Basically going from seven days to three for maximum security facilities will mean that, I think, for many people they will not be able to have their visit or they will be substantially shortened," Beck said. "It will clearly deteriorate the relationship between an incarcerated person and their family."
One of Beck's concerns is with a reduced visitation schedule, families may be discouraged from traveling to see an inmate. For those who live in New York City and have a family member serving a prison sentence at an upstate facility, it can take several hours to travel to and from the prison.
Beck predicts there will be fewer visits if Cuomo's proposal is adopted.
"And to save a few million dollars really doesn't make sense to have one of the most positive programs inside being substantially curtailed," he said.
While Beck acknowledged the video conferencing provision is "something," he said it doesn't replace the physical interaction between an inmate and his or her family.
"There's nothing more important than being able to come in and hug the person that you love," he said.
Cuomo's plan drew criticism from Assemblyman Gary Finch, a Republican whose district includes the Auburn Correctional Facility.
A member of the Assembly Committee on Correction, Finch, R-Springport, said he's concerned about the loss of 39 positions at the state's maximum security facilities.
Staffing has already been "cut to the bone" at prisons, Finch noted.
"We need to be able to hire more (corrections officers) and take the load off the overtime that they're paying, as well as providing some sort of additional support," he said.
Finch believes it's dangerous to cut personnel, but doesn't oppose reducing the visitation schedule at maximum security facilities.
"I don't have a problem with cutting the visitation down," he said. "If it's three days, I don't have a problem with that. I think there will be some families that are going to come and visit their loved ones that'll be disappointed."
The proposal is far from a done deal. Cuomo's budget is in the process of being reviewed by the state Legislature. The state Assembly and Senate will each draft separate budget proposals as a starting point for negotiations.
A hearing on the public protection section of the governor's budget plan will be held Tuesday in Albany. Finch expects the proposal will be further discussed at that meeting.
New York State Police in Auburn arrested a man Thursday night on a felony burglary charge after he had been bailed out of jail on a felony drug charge the same night.
Charles E. Henry Jr., of 55 Market St., Apt. 9, Auburn, was first arrested by Auburn city police on Wednesday morning after officers found him sleeping in his car outside of Dunkin' Donuts on Grant Avenue with 32 envelopes of heroin allegedly out in plain sight. The 33-year-old was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, and arraigned in Auburn City Court Wednesday. He was remanded to the Cayuga County Jail with bail set at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.
Thursday night someone posted bail for Henry, and Auburn-based state police caught up with him in Weedsport. State police charged Henry with second-degree criminal possession of stolen property valued over $50,000, a class C felony. Henry was also charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor.
State police declined to release more information on the new burglary and drug charges as the investigation is ongoing and further arrests may be made.
Henry was arraigned on the new charges and remanded again to the Cayuga County Jail Thursday. His new bail and bond was set at $100,000.
Anyone with information on Henry is asked to call state police at (315) 253-3103.
A Scipio Center man has been arrested and charged with a felony for possessing more than two pounds of marijuana after a traffic stop in Albany, police said.
New York State Police said Joseph W. Rocker was pulled over Jan. 24 on I-87 for multiple traffic violations.
An investigation determined Rocker was impaired by drugs, police said, and a search of the vehicle also revealed that Rocker was in possession of more than two pounds of marijuana, fireworks and $13,000.
Rocker was charged with second-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a class D felony, and driving while ability impaired by drugs. He was also charged with several violations, including unlawful possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of fireworks.
Rocker was arraigned before the City of Albany Court. He was remanded to the Albany County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash bail or bond.
Scores of whiskey bottles shelved at A.T. Walley & Co. decorate the Auburn cocktail bar like trophies.
Each bottle of the George Dickel whiskey is denoted by a black placard with a name in decorative white lettering. And while some of the names are pseudonyms, all represent their owners' membership in an exclusive club.
A.T. Walley's whiskey club now has 363 members, easily exceeding the expectations of the bar's ownership, said co-owner Jeff Campagnola. When A.T. Walley first partnered with George Dickel Tennessee Whisky three years ago, Campagnola said owners had installed enough shelves for about 15 or so bottles.
The tavern still needs to make room to shelve about 30. Overall, A.T. Walley has sold more than 1,500 bottles of Dickel, Simmons said.
A customer only needs to purchase a bottle of the whiskey to join the club. For those who have purchased multiple, medals are hung from their bottles along the wall to symbolize how many. Each bottle sold is numbered and labelled with information about the barrel it came from.
George Dickel — a small Tullahoma-based operation that makes its whiskey by hand, Simmons said — has garnered several accolades with its product, including an award for Best Tennessee Whiskey at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
"(Dickel) is very old-school, kind of like we are," Simmons said about the distillery's operation.
Members of A.T. Walley's club, Campagnola said, also include a number of celebrities, such as actor George Wendt and John Walsh, TV personality and victims' rights advocate.
The resulting popularity has elevated A.T. Walley as one of Dickel's best-selling accounts in the country, Campagnola said. A representative at Dickel could not be reached for comment.
"In a small little market in upstate New York, it's crazy," said co-owner Bernie Simmons.
Simmons said A.T. Walley kicked off the whiskey club with a bit of fanfare.
After signing on with Dickel, A.T. Walley transported the first 53-gallon barrel in January 2014 on the back of a classic flatbed truck loaned by Builder's Choice in Auburn. The delivery was done a bit Prohibition-style for show, Simmons said.
The first barrel cost A.T. Walley around $7,000. When A.T. Walley runs low on a stock of bottles, Campagnola said customers — and club members alike — are invited to taste-test samplings of the whiskey to help the bar choose which particular barrel to order. Whiskeys age with different tastes based on certain conditions, such as temperature and the environment.
"A company, store or restaurant might buy one barrel in a year, but to buy four in one year, that was something unheard of," Campagnola said.
The tavern is now on its eighth barrel. A.T. Walley owners gave one of the barrels to their State Street neighbors, Prison City Pub & Brewery, to age its craft beers inside it.
Looking ahead, owners said they have been told that George Dickel is aging 10-year-old whiskey barrels exclusively for A.T. Walley. That would make the tavern the only account in the country with that age of Dickel whiskey, Campagnola said. He said he expects the barrels to be ready for their taste-testing by the spring.
"This is just unique," Campagnola said. "We like to say here that if you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything at all. We just like to have things you can't get anywhere else."
SPAFFORD — Heather Bruno-Sears was looking for a fresh start.
The Skaneateles native had made up her mind and was all set to go: She had put all of her belongings in storage and was preparing to move to San Diego to work with a decorative arts industry leader there.
"I just wanted a fresh start and had my heart set," she said. "Having been born and raised in Skaneateles and this Finger Lakes region, I wanted to go live on the West Coast for awhile and just have a fresh start."
But, shortly after she made the decision to move, her grandfather, her best friend — "My grandparents were my absolute best friends. We were just very, very close," Bruno-Sears said — was in need of care-giving, so she decided to stay and help him through that process until he passed away.
So, Bruno-Sears and her mother and aunts took turns caring for her grandfather. One Sunday morning, she took him out for breakfast and decided to take the long way back to his home on Otisco Lake with a drive around Skaneateles Lake.
And that's when, "just by complete chance," she said, they happened upon Spafford School District No. 1 — also called the Nunnery School because it is located on Nunnery Road — an abandoned one-room stone schoolhouse.
"We drove past this place, and it was all overgrown," Bruno-Sears said. "The yard was completely overgrown with wild bamboo and burdock. I saw this neat little stone building that was just absolutely dilapidated and a 'For Sale by Owner' sign out front. ... I fell in love with it at first sight."
She didn't know what the building was at first, but she "literally did a U-turn in the road and came back," she said, and called the phone number on the sign.
"I just felt like it was just meant to be," Bruno-Sears said. "When I inquired and found out it was a circa 1814 schoolhouse, that's when I really became smitten because I've always had a great appreciation of antiquities and antiques and ancient cultures and just old things."
She learned that the building was a one-room schoolhouse — one of five altogether in the Spafford district — from 1814, the time early settlers first came to the area, to the 1940s, when the Skaneateles Central School District began forming.
She considers the Nunnery School a sister school to the Side Hill School, which was established in 1813 and is now owned by the Spafford Area Historical Society, because the schools are from the same time period whereas the other three were built in later years.
The Nunnery School, unlike the others, is made out of stone that was quarried locally and carried by oxen-drawn wagon to the site. After its school days were over, a family lived there "pretty rustically for a couple decades," Bruno-Sears said, and then the structure was abandoned.
"When I found it, it was all boarded up with a dirt floor, a huge hole in the roof, the stone walls were all compromised and crumbling because the roof had been rotted for so many years. It was probably another winter or two away from the back wall just giving way," she said. "I guess I just felt like I was the person meant to save it. I knew it would need a tremendous amount of work."
'Every square inch'
Just as some people ask, "Why not," where others ask, "Why," Bruno-Sears saw the site of the studio and showroom for her decorative arts business where others might have simply seen a falling-down eyesore.
She specializes in all sorts of hand-wrought surface designs for interiors, and in between work for her business, she spent the last seven years giving new life to the abandoned schoolhouse as the Finger Lakes Academy of Decorative Arts.
First, she cleared away the overgrowth around the outside of the building and then went to work on the exterior: There was a lightning bolt crack through the side of the building, two corners were giving way, two window sills had given way and 25 percent of the stones "crumbled like a jigsaw puzzle," she said, with the freezing and thawing of the structure.
Along with repairing the stone walls and replacing the roof, Bruno-Sears and her work crew installed attic trusses to add some height to the building and room for a bedroom loft and office upstairs.
The crew also squared off the front of the building and added a small balcony onto the back off of the bedroom.
She repurposed the original floorboards to make the staircase and then stenciled the rules of the classroom on each of the steps. A stenciled compass on the landing between flights points to true north, she said.
Using "every square inch of the building," Bruno-Sears said she added storage under the staircase that she built out to look like paneling and uses to store her supplies. In the office, she built cedar-lined closet space in the attic trusses.
The crew put spray foam insulation within the 18-inch-think stone walls and installed radiant heating in the floor.
"It's very cozy in the winter and nice and cool in the summer," Bruno-Sears said.
Around the outside of the building, Bruno-Sears turned to one of her favorite hobbies — gardening — and planted perennial gardens with an orchard that includes blueberry and raspberry bushes.
"It's been fun to really bring the property back to life and beautify it," she said. "It's like a quaint little English cottage estate in the countryside."
Bruno-Sears said she has about a year left to go to complete the renovations with what she called "icing on the cake" decorative finishes
"Structurally, the renovation is done but I'm still fine-tuning more ornamental ceilings and painted ceilings and decorative glass treatments," she said. "I was just thrilled to be able to salvage something I felt was precious in the community and it would have been a shame to lose."
'Heart of the building'
Her crew for the schoolhouse project included her father, Reggie Sears, and other family members and friends, as well as local craftsman and tradesman with whom she was familiar through her prior work.
"Everybody was just thrilled to be a part of it and was so supportive," she said. "It was a real community effort in that regard — family, friends and locals. ... It was great bonding time. It really was."
Bruno-Sears said she and her father spent the weekends over two summers repointing the exterior stone walls — chiseling out the old mortar, replacing it with a hand-mixed, traditional batch of Portland cement, sand and lime, and replacing some stones.
Along the way, she said she took "thousands of photographs" of the work and the people involved with it.
"It's been fun to document the process," Bruno-Sears said. "That's been a real reward of having patience with it because everything was such a process, but to document it and see it evolve, I can look back form year to year. Not only that but have fond memories of who helped do what."
As family and friends helped Bruno-Sears renovate the schoolhouse into her studio, the community looked on with interest and support.
One person, she said, was an elderly neighbor who was in one of the last classes to graduate from the Nunnery School in the 1940s. The woman's daughter brought her to the schoolhouse one day, and the woman pointed out where such things as the chalkboard and the stove had been located.
"The entire community, my neighbors and everyone, has been so supportive and encouraging and stops by quite a bit to see what's going on and check on the progress and cheer me on," Bruno-Sears said.
She said the Spafford Area Historical Society also was supportive, and when members saw the dedication and follow-through she put into the project, they gave her the old school bell to put in the building.
"It was like the heart of the building came back home," Bruno-Sears said, adding that she hopes to remount it.
She also researched and located an 1814 American flag to hang on the front the building.
"I'm thrilled to have been able to salvage the building," she said. "In shoring it up and renovating it, I really hope it's around for another 200 years. ... It's been a little gem in the community. I feel like it was meant to be, and I'm just really thrilled that I had the chance."
The Finger Lakes Academy of Decorative Arts, as the schoolhouse is known in terms of Bruno-Sears' business, offers a sort of life-size sample of the different techniques she uses in her work.
Those decorations include etched glass treatment on the windows for both ornament and privacy as well as interior plantation shutters. Other techniques include etched and gilded glass and reverse gilding.
She also makes furniture finishes by putting a distressed black or chalk paint finish over natural wood and uses figure painting and faux finishes inspired by her travels to Spain and Morocco. She also creates ornamental ceilings and walls with stenciling, along with concrete carpet designs.
"I just thought this would be a great place to showcase my hand-wrought surface design options and finishes that I offer, like a working studio," Bruno-Sears said. "It just struck me as having that potential, and I thought it would be a great place to work from and use as a showroom for my finishes."
With the word academy in the name of the business, Bruno-Sears said she eventually would like to teach classes in her studio, calling it "almost a tradition in my field."
She said she largely taught herself decorative painting and experimented with surface design, but she also took time to study with industry leaders in California, Ohio, Connecticut and New York City.
"It's almost like that old-world tradition of the master and an apprentice. I so cherished the opportunity to study with people who are at the top of my field nationally and internationally and learn from them and bring it back home to central New York to offer it for my clients," Bruno-Sears said. "Someday when I'm older and don't want to be on three tiers of scaffolding working on an ornamental ceiling, I feel as though it would be great to pass the baton to have classes and teach the next generation of decorative artisans."
After 18 years of being self-employed after starting out her career at MacKenzie-Childs, Bruno-Sears said she expanded from decorative painting into any medium that can be manipulated and hopes to pass her skills on to others.
"It's a wonderful studio and showroom and creative retreat, and eventually in the future, I see it being a great opportunity to share my skills with other people who are interested in learning them as a trade or as a hobby," she said. "Many people enjoy doing this sort of thing in their own home, but I've been able to carve out a nice niche career out of it."
Needless to say, Bruno-Sears didn't end up moving to California — but she still got her fresh start and found it in that abandoned one-room stone schoolhouse on Nunnery Road.
From taking care of her grandfather before he died to renovating the schoolhouse into her studio, she said she "evolved back around to staying here and being here" and realized that the Finger Lakes region is such a beautiful area that she wanted to stay there.
"If I want to go to California, I'll go there for vacations," Bruno-Sears said. "I'll just fulfill that little bit of wanderlust with some great traveling."
Her business is all word of mouth, she said, and it has grown in the years since she found the schoolhouse and started working on it.
"The clientele and just the projects have been so wonderful that I realized I'm really blessed and pretty productive here," she said of her business. "It literally circled back around to nurturing this project and resettling in the area."
That circling back included meeting Bill Carroll, whom Bruno-Sears called "the man of my dreams ... the absolute love of my life."
"I believe there's a reason for everything, from taking my grandfather for that Sunday drive to finishing this place to ending up staying here," Bruno-Sears said. "Business is doing well, and I fell in love. There are reasons for everything. ... It's just been a great, magical experience."
Bruno-Sears wasn't the only one who got a fresh start, though — so did the Nunnery School, which appears to be celebrating its future while honoring its past.
"It feels like a breath of fresh air, and it has just a whole new lease on life with its roots," she said.