SCHENECTADY — A development company is taking a step toward purchasing – and converting to apartments – the former Elmer Avenue school.
The school board Wednesday night accepted a letter of intent from CDREIT LLC, whose principal is local doctor and real estate investor Eric Moses, with a prospective purchase price of $450,000. Moses referred questions about the project to Sunrise Management and Consulting, a development firm overseeing the project.
The Elmer Avenue building has sat empty since the Schenectady City School District adjusted its school boundaries in 2017.
Sunrise was the developer behind the conversion of the old Draper School in Rotterdam to apartments. That facility opened to tenants in 2017. A representative at Sunrise did not answer questions about the project, but Schenectady County Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen responded on the developer's behalf.
Gillen and Metroplex have worked with the school district to attract and show prospective buyers the empty school building. Gillen said Sunrise was an experienced developer with proven success in converting an unused school building into apartments, and that the project would improve the Elmer Avenue neighborhood while preserving the historic building, which was erected in the early 1900s.
“The idea is to preserve the building. Of course, it’s a historic building. It’s important; we want to make sure it contributes (to the neighborhood),” Gillen said Tuesday.
The letter of intent, which is not a binding commitment to purchase the property, outlined a 30-day timeline for the district and buyer to enter into a formal purchase agreement. The letter also stipulates that the buyer will be given time to study potential designs and secure financing.
Once the district finalizes a sale agreement, residents of the school district will be asked to approve a referendum ratifying the sale. Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring on Tuesday said he hoped to have that vote on the ballot in May, when voters will be asked to adopt next year’s school district budget.
Spring had said he wanted to ensure Elmer’s next owners would preserve the historic nature of the building and convert it into something that would benefit the neighborhood. He said he thinks Sunrise’s plans meet that criteria.
“Their desire to have it become housing – senior housing in particular – I think it keeps the neighborhood a neighborhood,” Spring said. “I really can’t think of a desired use that we would favor more than that.”
Spring said he expected the sale proceeds would be put in the district’s capital reserve fund, where it could later be used to pay for construction and renovation projects. But the district will also benefit from the savings of unloading an unused building, which the district is still paying to heat and secure. The longer the district retains ownership of the building, the riskier it becomes that it will be vandalized or turn into a liability for the district, Spring said.
“By and large, the financial benefit for us is not having a property that we have to maintain and not use that becomes a drain and increasingly a liability and problem for us,” he said.
When district officials started evaluating the physical conditions of its buildings about five years ago, they decided it was too costly to overhaul Elmer, which would have required significant renovations, Spring said.
After it is sold, the Elmer building will also be moved back on the city’s tax rolls, Spring and Gillen pointed out.
“A vacant school on that street doesn’t help anyone,” Gillen said.