NEW SCOTLAND — After her purchase offer for the historic Clarksville Elementary School was turned down, a resident of the Bethlehem Central School District is now asking the district to consider redrawing its boundaries so that the building could be put to use by the Voorheesville Central School District.
Jennifer Bull said that she offered to purchase the building earlier this year for $325,000—which is $25,000 more than the total the sheriff’s office has offered, and $152,000 more than the actual monetary exchange that would take place under the current deal under consideration by the BCSD Board of Education. Under that deal, $127,000 would be paid through “in-kind” patrol services.
While Bull said she didn’t receive a definitive answer as to why her offer was rejected, a district official told Spotlight News that it wasn’t in a position to entertain any other offers, as there was a pre-existing agreement with the sheriff’s office. While the Board of Education has yet to vote on the proposed transaction, members seem to increasingly agree Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who has occupied the building for six years, has a legitimate expectation of a deal.
Some opponents of the sale argue that the district should prioritize the needs of the district and its students before it worries about inconveniencing the county. Resident Judy Abbott believes that enrollment projections released by BCSD are incomplete and do not adequately take into account the pace of growth in parts of the district. She would prefer to see BCSD hold on to the building, in case future growth necessitates more space in coming years.
Bull, however, believes that the building would be put to best use as a school now, and would prefer to see it incorporated into the Voorheesville school district, which she said is growing at a pace that would make the new building a welcome addition. She has been in touch with VCSD and said it may be interested in acquiring the building through a redistricting process.
When asked if VCSD Superintendent Brian Hunt had contacted the district, BCSD Superintendent Jody Monroe replied that he let her know that Bull reached out to him, but shook her head, implying that the conversation went no further.
According to Hunt, he spoke with Bull and with the district, but he said that to acquire the building would require a lengthy process and the approval of both school boards and other education entities. “Until Bethlehem decides what it wants to do, it’s not really anything Voorheesville can act on at this point,” he said. According to Hunt, VCSD enrollment is growing, but the current projections indicate it will have the room to accommodate all students for at least the next five years.
Opponents of the sale have also criticized the price tag, based on an assessed value that has dropped precipitously since 2016, from an assessed value of $1.7 million, and point out that BCSD still owes more than $1.6 million in debt on improvements made to the building a few years before the district relocated its students to Eagle and Slingerlands elementary schools due to declining enrollment brought about, in part, by a townwide building moratorium in Bethlehem.
During its meeting on Thursday, March 8, Board of Education members voted to approve the county as the lead agency to conduct a State Environmental Quality Review that will be necessary if the county proceeds with building a new garage on the property, which it will only do if the sheriff’s office succeeds in purchasing Clarksville.
Abbott spoke at that meeting, urging board members to retain the building and characterizing the sale as the loss of a capital asset. “I would still like to see this go to a public vote,” she said. “And I was was kind of hoping the school district would be willing to consider saving some of the land for future growth . . . is that completely off the table?”
“What is important is what is best for the school kids of Clarksville and the taxpayers of the districts involved,” said Bull, calling her personal feelings on the matter “irrelevant.”
According to BCSD, the district is waiting for the county to act on the sale before it goes back before the Board of Education.