CARS HOMES JOBS

Interest high in former Canajoharie school building

Volunteers want to save structure

Thursday, June 21, 2012
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— The historic West Hill School is a step closer to being saved.

Since the building came up at the county tax foreclosure auction, it has been in legal limbo. Now a monthlong schedule of hearings and meetings is set that will determine its future.

Last month the building was put up for auction by the county to recoup roughly $70,000 in unpaid property taxes, fines and interest. The highest bid was only $8,500, so the Board of Supervisors offered the property to the village to be refurbished.

Mayor Francis Avery said the village would take the building, but only if residents formed a volunteer organization to refurbish the building without using tax dollars.

Since the first public meeting drew 100 enthusiastic villagers to the Elephant Bistro on June 6, residents have organized to save West Hill.

“We’ve formed a committee,” said Hied Kraak, owner of the Elephant Bistro, who is leading the charge. “We’re working on our non-profit status.”

The government too is making progress toward transferring ownership of the building, but it’s not as simple as handing over a deed.

By giving the West Hill away, the county will loose roughly $54,000 in property tax money.

“We’re loosing money because we’re not meeting outstanding taxes,” said Montgomery County Treasurer Shawn Bowerman. “But the bid we received wouldn’t have met them either.”

The amount of money involved, though it would pay the full year’s wages of a county employee, is “not that great in the grand scheme of things,” according to Root Supervisor John Thayer.

Built into the county budget is an allowance for non-collectible accounts, which is designed as a backup for situations such as this. Also, the point of foreclosure auctions is not only to recoup back taxes, but to get properties back on the tax roll — or in this case, back into productive use. The West Hill school was tax-exempt for 110 of its 120 years. Giving it to a non-profit group just means returning it to its original state.

So far, prospects for refurbishment are looking good, organizers say.

“I grew up in Canajoharie,” Thayer said. “I went to West Hill School. If they can restore the place, that’s fantastic.”

Tuesday night, the finance committee of the county Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on to the full board to transfer the building. If that is approved by the full board at its meeting tonight, a public hearing will take place July 24. Based on public feedback, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to sign West Hill over to the village.

However, the cogs of government turn more slowly than the volunteers would like.

“We still don’t have possession of the building,” Kraak said. “We have 200 volunteers waiting to go in, but we’re dead in the water until the board actually signs it over.”

Also, West Hill’s roof is in bad shape. “We want to get in as soon as possible,” Kraak said.

For more information on the West Hill refurbishment project, visit volunteers on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HistoricWestHillSchool or at www.historicwesthillschool.com.

 
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