Schenectady County

Union College buying Schaefer home, library

Six months after an Adirondack conservation group had to lay off its paid staff, Union College plans

Six months after an Adirondack conservation group had to lay off its paid staff, Union College plans to buy the group’s property for a learning center.

Union will buy the late conservationist Paul Schaefer’s home and the adjoining Adirondack Research Library from Protect the Adirondacks!, an advocacy group.

Protect has continued as a volunteer organization since October, when it cut three full-time staffers and some independent contractors. Part-time Executive Director Peter Borrelli stayed on the payroll as an adviser to help sell the two-acre property next to the 111-acre H.G. Reist Wildlife Sanctuary used by the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club.

An anonymous donor allowed the college to buy the property, college officials said.

“This is an exceptional opportunity to provide a home for and advance the college’s curricular and co-curricular offerings related to mountains, wilderness and waterways in general and to the Adirondacks in particular,” college President Stephen C. Ainlay said in a statement.

Union will explore partnerships with other colleges, universities, museums and preservation groups, the college’s statement said.

Protect and Union have a sales agreement on the property and officials believe the deal will close this summer.

First, the state Attorney General’s Office has to approve the sale. The state oversees when nonprofit organizations sell assets, Borrelli said.

“This is not a conventional sale,” he said.

The sale price also is subject to the attorney general’s approval and isn’t being disclosed now.

Until the closing, board members and volunteers will still use the property occasionally, but not much.

“Essentially, the building is in a semi-mothballed condition,” Borrelli said.

Informally, Protect members embraced selling the property to Union, especially since it keeps the library’s collection in the region.

“We tested the idea over the months on a great many people,” Borrelli said, adding the membership will have to vote on the sale before it can close.

Legally, the library collection will be on permanent loan to Union — at no charge — but still owned by Protect. Most of the items will be stored at the current library.

The collection includes more than 15,000 books as well as maps, photographs, documents and personal papers. It includes a floor-to-ceiling relief map of the Adirondack Park.

Borrelli realized in September that the group would have to make big changes or have to close altogether. “The organization was facing very serious financial problems,” he said.

Since staffers have been let go, volunteers run committees to do Protect’s work.

“They have transformed themselves in a way that I think people might have been very skeptical about,” Borrelli said.

He expects at some point Protect will open an office of some sort inside the Adirondack Park.

Schaefer was an Adirondack enthusiast who was involved with the Association for Protection of the Adirondacks. His children sold the property to the organization when he died in 1996 at the age of 88.

In 2009, the association merged with the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks to form the Protect the Adirondacks! group.

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