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Apartments bring new life to former DSS Building in Schenectady

Apartments bring new life to former DSS Building in Schenectady

16-unit building dates to 1877; conversion cost $3 million, took 12 months
Apartments bring new life to former DSS Building in Schenectady
Galesi Group CEO David Buicko and Mackenzie Matthews, Galesi property manager, are seen at 487 Nott Apartments.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — The new apartments in one of the city’s oldest buildings are nearly all rented out.

The developer of the old Nott Street School at Nott Street and Seward Place said that, as of Wednesday, 13 of the 16 apartments were occupied or had commitments from tenants.

The yearlong, $3 million overhaul of the circa-1877 building by the Galesi Group is essentially complete. But for minor tasks such as the window-caulking that workers were doing Wednesday morning, the work is done.

The building now known as 487 Nott Apartments served more than 60 years each as classroom and office space, but it is inefficiently designed for residential use: Hallways and staircases are much wider than they need to be, creating a nice sense of openness but wasting a lot of floor space. 

Designed from scratch, a modern building with the same footprint could fit substantially more tenants; because the load-bearing walls couldn’t be moved, it was an accomplishment to squeeze even 16 apartments into the former schoolhouse.

The oldest part of the structure was built in 1877 as the city’s fifth public school, and it was expanded in 1909. It was used as a school until 1942, then turned over to the county, which placed a wartime rationing office there. After World War II, the county put its Department of Social Services there.

By 2009, the building was beyond its useful life as a social services building: There was no accommodation for the many mobility-impaired people the DSS serves, and the wide corridors were cluttered with boxes of files. That ended when the county consolidated its four DSS locations at a single building on Broadway, in a former factory that had been converted by the Galesi Group.

The Nott Street School sat in limbo for several years as a workable plan was devised for it. The early proposal called for it to be demolished and replaced with affordable housing, but that plan relied on federal funding that did not come through. The conversion plan eventually put in place faced the hurdles of expense and engineering that come with taking an obsolete structure and making it useful for something different.

But for all its shortcomings in the modern era, the building had been solidly built and remained structurally sound.

A combination of subsidies ($300,000 from the Capital Region Land Bank, $100,000 from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, state and federal historic preservation tax credits yet to be determined, property tax breaks yet to be determined) made the project financially workable for Galesi.

Because of the Land Bank involvement, tenants are limited to 120 percent of area median income, ranging from about $70,000 for a household of one person to about $100,000 for a household of four. 

Rents at 487 Nott Street Apartments range from $850 to $1,050 a month and include internet and cable TV service. There are 14 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units.

The building started out with a roof that was steep and gabled and featured other decorative touches, but that was long ago replaced with a flat roof, possibly at the time of the 1909 expansion. Since then it has been a fairly plain building, and remains such, but the renovation restored some historical touches:

Original wood-framed blackboards decorate some of the apartments. Large windows flood the apartments with light. Drop ceilings were removed, creating much more open air and an urban retro look, with exposed ductwork and plumbing. Vintage terrazzo floors remain, mixed with laminate hardwood in some places.

The 2018 features fit in nicely among all this, sometimes side-by-side: A hulking boiler and steam tank dating back a century or more sits right near a bank of security monitors in a basement area.

The building still doesn’t have an elevator, which would have been expensive. The building was exempted from handicapped-access requirements because of its age.

It’s a much smaller project than most of the developments the Galesi Group has undertaken, both in dollars and scale. CEO David Buicko said the 487 Nott Apartments project was more of an investment in the community than a source of revenue for his company. It provides new living space within walking distance of Mohawk Harbor and downtown, which includes several Galesi properties. One of the first tenants actually works next door at the Golub Corp. headquarters, which is owned by Galesi.

It’s also right on the bike path and close to Ellis Hospital and Union College, Buicko noted. Ideally he said, the apartment project will help spread the city’s redevelopment into the North Side neighborhood.

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