Schenectady County

Disabled veterans aim to buy the old Draper School

The Disabled American Veterans may have the solution for a conundrum that has kept the old Draper Sc

The Disabled American Veterans may have the solution for a conundrum that has kept the old Draper School vacant and in legal limbo for nearly two years.

The national nonprofit organization is maneuvering to purchase the 94,000-square-foot structure to renovate it into roughly 150 apartments for disabled combat veterans over the age of 55. The proposed assisted-living home would be the first of its kind for the organization and would serve as the flagship for a program it has plans to implement throughout the country.

“This will be the first in the nation,” explained Thomas Reiter, the Disabled American Veterans’ state representative and the junior vice-commander of the department in New York.

Reiter said his organization has been in contact with First Niagara, the bank holding the building’s mortgage, and is optimistic a deal could soon be worked out to purchase the property. He declined to discuss the particulars of the deal but said the Disabled American Veterans are considering a multi-million dollar conversion of the building if all goes as planned.

“The finances are kind of working in the right direction,” he said during a phone interview Wednesday.

The Disabled American Veterans have more than 1.2 million members, with roughly 70,000 in New York alone. The organization provides grassroots advocacy and services in communities for veterans across the country.

Reiter said the apartments would be from 420 square feet to 900 square feet and would have either one or two bedrooms. Veterans would need to be at least 30 percent disabled to qualify for residency at the proposed complex.

The Disabled American Veterans had initially planned to build a similar facility on five acres near the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island. But Reiter said the Draper building seemed ideal for their needs and is located in close proximity to many of the services disabled veterans require.

“Everything works out there,” he said. “It’s something we can’t pass up.”

Reiter said the project will likely require a zone change for the 3.5-acre property but wasn’t sure if the town had a proper classification for such an apartment complex. The property is now zoned for retail business, according to county records.

Another hitch is that the property is still technically owned by the defunct International Charter School of Schenectady, which ceased operation in June 2008 after the SUNY Board of Trustees opted not to renew its charter. First Niagara initially threatened to foreclose on the roughly $7 million loan after ICSS failed to sell the property in the months following the school’s closure.

Last year, ICSS offered to surrender its deed to the property in lieu of foreclosure proceedings. But the bank refused to accept the property and instead suggested the building be sold at an auction funded by the charter school.

The charter school refused, sending the building into legal limbo. Harold Gordon, an attorney for ICSS, said finding an owner for the building has been the hang-up that has prolonged the charter school’s inevitable dissolution.

“Really, the trustees want to wind things down and they’ve only hung in there out of a sense of obligation,” he said.

With ownership of the building unresolved, Gordon said, the charter school has moved forward on plans to dissolve its corporation. He said the state Education Department’s Board of Regents has since accepted a petition to cease existence, meaning the charter school will now petition the state Supreme Court to dissolve its corporation even if the building isn’t sold.

“We’ve heard nothing from the bank for months,” he said.

However, Gordon said the charter school’s trustees would be more than willing to relinquish the property if the bank has a buyer. Absent a new owner and if the bank fails to take deed to the property, control of the building might ultimately revert to the Mohonasen Central School District, according to state law.

Representatives from First Niagara did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Supervisor Frank Del Gallo lauded the plan to convert the school into apartments for disabled veterans. He said the project would help create local jobs and bring in new residents to utilize businesses throughout Rotterdam.

“It’ll get the building going again,” he said.

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