BETHLEHEM — The topic of selling the former Clarksville Elementary School building to Albany County was tabled by the School Board on Wednesday, Jan. 3, as it mulls over its options.
The building’s current occupant, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, presented an offer to purchase the building outright late last year. The offer forgoes its three-year lease-to-purchase agreement.
Albany County had an opportunity to purchase the building last August when it’s original lease agreement expired, however no decision was made. BCSD then extended the lease to end at 2020. The County has now offered to buy the building for the $325,000 price the two parties originally agreed upon.
“It seems like we’ve been talking about this for a year,” quipped district Chief Financial Officer Judith Kehoe before detailing options to the School Board and residents. The School Board hosted three public meetings on the topic last year, immediately prior to what some anticipated to be the sale of the former school building to the County.
The volume of Wednesday night’s public comments contrasted against last year’s fervor over the board’s willingness to sell. Outside of the nearly two dozen high school students attending the meeting for class credit, only two residents stood to speak.
Local business owner Jennifer Bull asked the board trustees if it considered seeking other potential purchasers, such as herself.
“I would be more than willing to pay $325,000 to the School Board,” said Bull, “if they’re actually interested in selling it outright for that amount of money. Obviously, it would not involve in-kind services, but you’ll be getting more money, total.”
The question sparked discussion among board members. Trustee Jonathan Fishbein asked what steps could it take to entertain offers from other parties. No one knew.
“I don’t know what the process is either,” said Fishbein, “but, I think it’s worth asking. … I don’t know if [Bull would] be willing to buy it at a higher price. I don’t know if it’s a piece of property that is worth more on the open market. … I don’t know if we’ve done anything more, because I don’t think we thought we could get anything more. But, the question now is, [the County has] opened it up again, maybe we should look again.”
The County’s offer to the school district repeats the original agreement: $198,000 in cash, with $127,000 in-kind services, which involves regular patrols of the Clarksville neighborhood. It also includes a right-to-first refusal clause, that would allow the school an opportunity to buy back the property should the County later decide to sell. The only change is that, now, the County doesn’t want to wait before taking ownership. If the school district rejects the offer, the Sheriff’s Department will up and leave.
The 70-year-old school building is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The district funded a renovation in 2003 through a bond and is obligated to continue making payments until 2022. Its full market value is assessed at $1.7 million, however, an appraisal valued it at $410,000. The agreement to sell the building to the Sheriff’s Department at $325,000 includes an adjustment of $85,000 for avoiding maintenance costs upon the close of a sales deal.
Kehoe’s presentation weighed against reopening the building as a school citing such costs, including staffing and maintaining the building’s infrastructure, in excess of $1 million a year. Last year, the district pointed to decreasing enrollment as the cause for closing the 11-room school building in 2011. Nonetheless, Clarksville resident Judy Abbott begged the board to hold on to some land to address potential residential growth.
“So that if you need to build a new school, it’s in Clarksville,” said Abbott, wearing a black Clarksville Elementary sweatshirt featuring the district’s eagle’s head logo. “Because, you’ve been turning your backs on our elementary school children.”
The District will wait for another property appraisal and research whether it can list the property for sale.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.