FULTON & MONTGOMERY COUNTIES — Only 11 years after borrowing $11.3 million to double the size of student housing at Fultom-Montgomery Community College, the student housing arm of the college Friday petitioned state Supreme Court in Fulton County for permission to sell all three of its dormitory buildings to Amsterdam-based Dan Vann Properties for $1.1 million.
The sale of the three dorms represents a complete reversal of the strategy college officials had envisioned for its growth 11 years ago when it borrowed $11.3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the purpose of purchasing and upgrading the 1980s-vintage Fulton Hall and Montgomery Hall for $4 million from the Massachusetts-based private company that owned them and building from scratch the $7.1 million, 144-bed, co-educational Raider Hall dorm opened in 2012.
College President Gregory Truckenmiller said the 288 dorm beds in the three buildings have been empty since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the cost of the annual debt payments for the three buildings is $770,000, too much to continue paying with no students in the dorms paying for housing.
“There isn’t a whole lot of choice, given the debt service the [Fulmont College Association] has on the property,” he said.
Truckenmiller also serves as the president of the Fulmont College Association (FCA), the nonprofit corporation tasked with providing services outside of the legal authority of college’s state charter, including running the school’s book store, cafeteria and, since 2010, operating the student housing at Fulton Hall, Montgomery Hall and Raider Hall. All three are located on a two-acre parcel at 588 County Highway 142.
Truckenmiller said that after 18 months of negotiations, the USDA agreed to forgive the remaining $10 million of the loans in exchange for the FCA turning over the proceeds of the sale, less the 7% real estate broker commission paid to Pyramid Brokerage Company of Albany.
According to the court filing, the USDA required FCA to sell the property at market value. Pyramid solicited interest from the Lexington Chapter of The ARC; St. Mary’s Healthcare and Hospital; Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home; Liberty Enterprises of the Montgomery County ARC of Amsterdam; and various developers and investors throughout the Capital Region, but only received one offer on the Property, which was Dan Vann Properties.
The two acres of land on which the student dorms are built was originally owned by Fulton County, and was subject to local laws passed by both Fulton and Montgomery counties in 1982 that required the original purchaser of the property, a company called the Fisher Group, to use the land for “the construction of a housing accommodation for the students attending the college.”
Truckenmiller said Montgomery County officials have indicated to him that they will not take any legal action to block the sale of the dorm buildings and Fulton County officials have so far “remained silent” as to any legal claim they might have. He said the state Attorney General’s Office has advised the college that property taxpayers in the two counties would not have legal standing to challenge the sale, and the only permission necessary is a favorable court ruling from state Supreme Court in Fulton County.
According to the court filing, some of the factors in the purchase price include that the two older dormitories are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, although those units contain kitchens. The newer Raider Hall units do not have any kitchens.
The court filing states Dan Vann Properties, owned by Dan Roth, intends “to convert the property to market-rate housing, which will be available primarily to students of the college, in accordance with the use restriction contained in the local laws.”
But Truckenmiller said although college officials are hopeful Roth will be “a good partner” in providing student housing, there is no guarantee he’ll keep the buildings as student dorms.
“I definitely have mixed feelings about it,” he said. “We believe the prospective buyer is going to be a good partner, and that is our hope, but once that property is no longer under the control of the Fulmont College Association you don’t know what’s going to happen, and, when we’re not in a pandemic, it is nice to have student housing.”
After Raider Hall opened, FMCC had an influx of so many residential students, particularly international students, it had a 100-student-long waiting list for the dorms and was forced to sign a deal with the Johnstown Microtel to rent out 50 beds on its 3rd floor, effectively creating a foutth “International Hall” for the school.
FMCC in 2016 had the highest concentration of international student enrollment among all of New York state’s community colleges at 5.8%, reaching a high of approximately 160 students. Under former FMCC President Dustin Swanger the school and its nonprofit corporations had proposed building a $12 million “Global Village” on 145 acres owned by the Foundation of FMCC on Bendicks Corner Road to help the college continue to attract international students. In 2017 Swanger pronounced the Global Village concept dead amid new restrictions on student visas imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Truckenmiller, who was recently appointed the college’s ninth president after Swanger’s retirement, said that since 2017 the number of international students has dropped to 47 for the current school year.
International students pay double FMCC’s annual $5,500 tuition, not counting the money they pay for housing. The loss of the international students has cost the college at least $1.3 million in annual tuition revenue and was a major factor in the declining occupancy of the dorm buildings, even before the pandemic.
Truckenmiller said another major factor in the decline of student housing at FMCC was changes made to the City University of New York (CUNY) system, which used to have a July 1 cut-off for student enrollment for the New York City-based college system. He said declining enrollment downstate led CUNY to convert to a rolling-emissions policy, which substantially reduced the number of New York City area students enrolling at FMCC.