Once again, the city of Schenectady is faced with the classic development dilemma: spend more money to save a nice-looking, historic building or spend less to knock it down and build something new. Sadly, it appears the City Council is leaning toward the latter.
The building is the old Nott School (more recently the county social services building) at 487 Nott St. The handsome but dilapidated brick building, which dates back to 1875, needs a good $2.8 million overhaul to convert it into 14 apartments for workers at the nearby Golub Corp. headquarters, Union College and Ellis Hospital. That’s a lot of money, and the Galesi Group — which bought the building from the county, then filed to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places to get tax credits for the renovation — was willing to put up $1.5 million if the city would put up the remaining $1.3 million.
A month ago, it looked like the council was going to OK the deal, and we endorsed it somewhat reluctantly in a June 14 editorial. But after some members of the public dissented at a recent City Council meeting, the council lost its nerve: It’s now gotten Galesi to agree to a tear-down, which would only cost the city $500,000 and would possibly allow Galesi to build more than 14 apartments.
And the city could use the remaining $800,000 of an anticipated $3 million federal loan to raze double the number of dilapidated buildings than the 60 it would have had money to.
Clearly, the move makes sense from an economic standpoint. Aesthetically, though, it would be akin to demolishing attractive, perfectly serviceable old houses to erect an ugly new drugstore, which the city has done — then regretted — on more than one occasion. Actually, it would be worse because the old school isn’t just a nice old building: It has indeed been listed on the national historic register. But legally, it could be razed if Galesi hasn’t yet taken any rehab tax credits.
Schenectady has already lost too much of its past, too many attractive old buildings. The neighborhood around the Nott School is mostly old, including St. Anthony’s Church, Union College and the old Alp’s Grill, which the college renovated several years ago and converted into a neighborhood outreach center. If Union College could gut and renovate that building without the city’s help, Galesi can — and should — transform the old Nott School with it.