Schenectady County

Rotterdam charter school faces uphill battle for town approval

Eximius Academy may have a contract to purchase the former Draper School property, but getting Rotte

Eximius Academy may have a contract to purchase the former Draper School property, but getting Rotterdam’s approval to use the building for a charter school may not be easy.

The proposed charter school could face an uphill battle for site plan approval because the International Charter School of Schenectady, which formerly occupied the building, failed to live up to provisions included in a “community host agreement” reached with the town in 2006. That agreement states that the now-defunct charter school needed to pay Rotterdam a fee for town services annually or face having its conditional site plan approval revoked.

“And they defaulted,” Deputy Supervisor Robert Godlewski said.

That means Eximius will need to face the same planning process as its predecessor, which faced strong objections from property owners living near Draper Avenue. ICSS received the necessary approvals in June 2005, but not without members of the Planning Commission issuing a set of two dozen conditions.

The town also required ICSS to pay $25,000 annually, a sum meant to make up for the loss of tax revenue. The building was privately owned until the tax-exempt charter school used state funding to purchase it for $1.5 million in December 2005.

The agreement included a default clause, which gave the town the ability to place the property back on the tax rolls if ICSS failed to make the necessary payment within 90 days. All approvals and other permits granted by the town would also be terminated upon default, according to the agreement.

Town records show the Draper School property was placed back on the tax rolls and assessed a $21,000 bill in 2010. This year, the town mailed out a $91,000 bill to the property for its town levy, school taxes and an exemption removal.

The owner of record remains ICSS, which ceased operation in June 2008 after the SUNY Board of Trustees opted not to renew its charter. Mortgage holder 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.

In 2009, 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.

The tax-exempt Disabled American Veterans were negotiating to purchase the 94,000-square-foot building last summer, with the hope of transforming it into apartments for disabled combat veterans over the age of 55. Town officials lauded the plan as one that could bring new vitality to the building and jobs to the area. Supervisor Frank Del Gallo said the veterans were planning to buy the property and invest more than $24 million into overhauling the structure.

“As far as we knew, that was the end of it,” he said.

But last month, the Eximius Education Foundation signed a contract with First Niagara Bank, with the expectation to lease the school back to the fledgling academy by fall 2012. Town officials were surprised by the news, since they received no contact from Eximius prior to this week.

“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” said Planning Commission Chairman Tom Yuille, who only learned of the proposed academy after reading about it in The Gazette.

Calls placed to Eximius spokeswoman Pam Swanigan were not returned Monday or Tuesday. A representative from First Niagara also did not return a call for comment.

An official with Disabled American Veterans declined to discuss the matter last week. He indicated, however, that his organization is still hoping to purchase the building.

Meanwhile, the school building continues to fall deeper into disrepair. Numerous pipes in the building burst because of cold weather in 2008 and one wing suffered fire damage after it was inhabited by a 16-year-old runaway from Scotia in 2009.

“I hear it’s not in good shape,” Del Gallo said.

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