Fate of old Canajoharie school to be decided
County offers building to village
CANAJOHARIE The fate of West Hill School, a limestone landmark now 120 years old, will be decided Wednesday.
Villagers will have one final chance to reclaim the building before it is demolished.
West Hill has fallen on hard times since Canajoharie Central School District sold it in 2004. In 2006, Brooklyn investor George Czachor bought the property, planning to convert it into an apartment complex, but the project ran into financial troubles and he abandoned the building, partially demolished and decaying.
Last month, after sitting boarded up for years, West Hill came up on the Montgomery County property tax foreclosure auction block, with roughly $70,000 in back taxes due.
Several locals, including Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery, unsuccessfully petitioned the county to remove West Hill from the auction list.
The county went ahead with the auction, with Barry Yerdon taking the property with a winning bid of only $8,500, according to Avery.
Yerdon could not be reached for comment regarding his plans for West Hill, but when he bought the Universalist Church in Fort Plain last year, he intended to demolish it for materials before Historic Fort Plain stepped in.
Because the bid was so low, and because the village had petitioned for the building, the County Finance Committee offered it to the village.
“They figured, ‘If the village is so interested in the building, we’ll give it to them,’ ” Avery said.
A public meeting will be held at the Elephant Bistro at 6 p.m. Wednesday to determine local interest.
If the public seems enthusiastic, Canajoharie will request ownership by June 15 and the community will have one year to write grants and stabilize the building, using only donated funds.
The village will not contribute funds or manpower, but require the public to form a separate nonprofit entity to manage the property.
If in that year significant progress is not made, the village will either sell or demolish the building.
“We’re not going to save it just to let it sit there,” Avery said.
If the community does not respond Wednesday, he said, the county will award the building to Yerdon.
“There certainly is a sense of history in this village,” said Dorine Sloberg of the Canajoharie Palatine Chamber of Commerce. “People want to preserve that.”
Though many residents would rather see West Hill refurbished than demolished, any effort to do so will require a huge amount of work.
The building’s interior has been gutted to the stone walls. The only way to move between floors is via exterior fire escapes, as the stairways were removed. According to Avery, the roof alone, which has been leaking for years, will cost roughly $100,000 to repair.
“It will be hard,” he said, “ but if you’re willing to put the time and money into it you, could do anything.”