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Viable plan is necessary

July 1, 2012
The Leader Herald

Restoring the former West Hill Elementary School in Canajoharie would be an admirable project, as long as it's done right.

Before village officials accept the deed to the historic building, they should be certain concerned citizens' plans for renovating the old school are viable.

After a public hearing July 26, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors may vote to turn the building over to the village of Canajoharie.

The county had recently foreclosed on the property and put the building up for public auction. However, the winning bid- $8,500 - was much lower than the taxes owed on the property, $70,000. The county decided not to accept the offer.

Part of the reason for the low bid may have been the poor condition of the former school, which was built on the site of the Canajoharie Academy where Susan B. Anthony, the famous women's rights activist, worked for two years.

Volunteers who want to save the building have said it needs a new staircase, heating system and more than 130 new windows. The roof has almost 30 holes, some of which were described as big enough to drive a car through.

While it's sad to see the building in its current state, the village must protect its taxpayers. Officials need to be certain the volunteers - who have shown great enthusiasm so far - have a strong plan. The building needs a lot of work, and high hopes won't make up for a lack of funding or expertise in restoring an old building.

The Canajoharie volunteers may want to look at how the Schine Building in Gloversville, also known as Memorial Hall, has experienced something of a revival.

Concerned citizens have worked to repair the Schine Building, which opened as an opera house in 1881. Rather than relying solely on fundraising to pay for repairs, the group - which took ownership of the building and formed Schine Memorial Hall LLC - sold shares to investors at $5,000 each. Some of the costs also have been offset by a state Main Street Grant, which matches up to $70,000 worth of work.

The group put together a short- term and long-term plan. The plans not only showed what repairs and improvements need to be made, but they included a forecast of rental revenue and cash flow.

While such a plan may not perfectly fit Canajoharie and what needs to be done at the former West Hill Elementary School, the village should look at what the Canajoharie volunteers have planned. Village taxpayers cannot afford to be stuck with an expensive repair or demolition bill.



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