Plans for the proposed $15-million project to turn the former Draper High School into 113 apartments called Draper Lofts are moving along.
The century-old Rotterdam school building, located at 901 Draper Ave., has been vacant for the past eight years. The school closed in 1986, but the building, built in 1913, was home to a charter school through 2008.
A development team led by Sunrise Management & Consulting of Albany has been pursuing the project since last fall.
“Ultimately, we have a huge open building that’s been vacant for years in the middle of the neighborhood that’s hurting the neighborhood,” Jesse Holland, the president of Sunrise, said Tuesday. “This is an excellent, creative use for that building.”
The developer said the plans are to keep the history of the former school alive in the new complex.
Holland said his wife is a librarian in the Mohonasen Central School District and she is looking for pictures in old yearbooks from the Draper School and is looking for old trophies to be put on display in Draper Lofts once complete.
“We’re trying to connect with the history of the school itself,” Holland said.
The Sunrise Management president said the apartments will not be part of a luxury complex.
“Let’s call them rent-reasonable,” Holland said. “It will be something people can afford to live in that’s not a luxury, high-end place, but is good value for your money.”
The developer manages more than 1,500 apartments in upstate New York, including the 192-unit Long Pond Village Apartments on West Campbell Road in Rotterdam.
Holland said the company recently completed a similar project in Averill Park where the former West Sand Lake School was converted into 31 apartments called Homeroom Lofts.
Homeroom Lofts opened to tenants in February and is already 40 percent leased, according to Holland.
“It’s similar size and styles [to the future Draper Lofts],” he said. “I expect even more success with this complex from what our experience is in Rotterdam. The rental market is extremely strong right now.
“Someone came to the first Planning Board meeting looking for rental information, so there’s clearly a demand,” he added.
The 113 units will be a mix of studio and three-bedroom spaces in the roughly 125,000-square-foot building. Holland said the slated 113 units is an increase from the originally-proposed 107.
“The unit count came up because we made more apartments, but smaller, so the person-density will be lower,” Holland said. “More units but less people … We had to very carefully balance the need for the unit count, the economics, the parking and the impact. We had to try and find a middle ground that works for everybody.”
Holland said the development team has been working to make sure the site has adequate parking. Currently, 177 spaces are planned.
To get Draper Avenue ready for the building conversion and an influx of traffic, the town needs to change the street’s parking rules, which are still coded for a school zone, as well as other changes.
Last week, the Town Board voted to hold a public hearing April 13 to make the necessary changes to Draper Lofts’ surrounding streets, including making Earl and Stanton streets one-way, removing and relocating stop signs in the area and allow for angled parking spots on the roads.
The public hearing was scheduled with a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Joe Villano voting against it.
“As a former student of the Draper School system I’m quite saddened buy the condition the building is in. It’s a terrible eye sore, however, promoting tenement-style living in the town of Rotterdam is not in keeping of its suburban nature,” Villano said Tuesday. “Placing 113 units in a single- and two-family neighborhoods is simply ridiculous.”
Villano said he had suggested the town purchase the building when it was for sale to convert it into a new municipal center, and now, he thinks the new apartment complex will only bring negative changes to the community.
“I expect an increase in crime … It will result in a request for further police officers that are incredibly expensive,” he said. “And, this does not increase our tax base whatsoever because for every additional student who ends up living in that building the Mohonasen district will have to support them through increased school taxes.”
The members of the town Planning Commission, who approved the initial site plans, have all been positive, Holland said.
Metroplex has supported the project since the beginning, and provided a $50,000 facade grant and pilot agreement package in the fall.
“Every Planning Board member has said ‘I love the idea. This project is fantastic,’ ” Holland recalled. “We’ve had nothing but a warm reception from Metroplex, the county, the Police and Highway departments, and the old and new town supervisors.
“It [the project] is going to have an impact on the neighborhood — anything would,” he added. “The question is, how many more years do you want a big hulking vacant building that’s waiting for someone to damage or damage the neighborhood, or would you rather have a parcel that eventually will add to the tax rolls? This will provide quality housing that people can afford, and we’re looking at this as a long-term benefit to the community.”
Construction is expected to begin in June and take up to 18 months to complete.
Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, [email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter.