SCHENECTADY — The first tenants will move into the repurposed St. Mary’s School on Monday.
The long-vacant building is part of Renaissance Square, a $20 million revitalization project that will yield 55 new below-market-rate apartments, 30 of them in a newly constructed building on Eastern Avenue.
The other 25 apartments are tucked into the old school on Irving Street that two years ago was a decrepit eyesore on the exterior and a jumbled mess on the interior.
Vandals and raccoons had made their way into the building, which featured smashed windows, spray-painted graffiti and extensive clutter left over from the school days. Walking inside was difficult in most areas and unsafe in a few.
The degree of transformation inside and out can be stunning to visitors who saw the site before work began in February 2020 but not since.
Construction workers swarmed the building Thursday, painting and putting finishing touches on the areas that still were not quite ready.
But the century-old former Catholic school has otherwise completed its transition to apartment house, and is gleaming from its makeover.
Jessica Shellhamer, assistant project manager for Home Leasing, the developer, said as many of the building’s original components were saved as possible, as required by state historic preservation rules.
Where the details were too damaged or decayed to save — as with the stamped tin ceilings — exact modern replicas were installed.
Other details both major (granite steps, arched windows, brickwork) and minor (chair rails, gymnasium millwork, exposed steel trusses) all were preserved.
There were a few surprises. The basement floor had shifted in such a way that the whole level needed to be dug out and refinished. Some of the spray-painted vandalism on the exterior stonework proved impossible to remove with a half-dozen different techniques, so the developer got state permission to paint over it.
And finally, COVID struck shortly after the work began, causing some delays including for subcontractors under quarantine.
But for the most part, Shellhamer said, it was as close to straightforward as such projects get. Repurposing neglected old buildings is never the same from one project to the next, but Rochester-based Home Leasing has done enough of them that it’s able to adapt on the go.
Some of the adaptations:
The windows had to be disassembled and reconditioned before they’d open because the sash weight mechanisms had rusted in place. Some needed new glass, too.
The building has Yankee gutters, an archaic style that funnels water through the roof instead of over the edge, and not many contractors are experienced with them.
An elevator shaft had to be carved out of the interior space.
The top floor gym/auditorium was converted into a community room but the surrounding areas (stage, backstage, balcony) all became apartments.
Decorative mini-blackboards were fabricated for some of the apartments by cutting up the original classroom backboards, testing them for lead, and framing them in salvaged lumber.
Neither the basement or the first floor is level with the street, so a small lift was installed to get wheelchairs from the parking lot to the basement, where there are handicapped-accessible apartments.
St. Mary’s School was associated with the church of the same name at the corner of Eastern and Irving, which is now an event venue called Renaissance Hall. The church’s owner also owns the former convent next door, which is being used as a construction office during the project.
Rents for apartments in the former St. Mary’s School will start at $590, $830 and $850 for studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, ranging upward depending on the occupant’s income as a percentage of median area income.
As of Thursday, 10 of the 25 apartments had been leased.
Many of the future occupants so far will be new to Schenectady: Three currently live in Home Leasing’s Clinton Avenue Apartments in Albany and others are relocating from New York City.
Meanwhile, down Irving Street on Eastern Avenue, Home Leasing has made significant progress on the new 30-unit apartment house it is building.
Tenants are expected to start moving in at the end of April.