Community groups seek a new home in Schenectady

Price Chopper phases out facility at former offices

Monday, March 25, 2013
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— New groups are no longer welcome at the Price Chopper Community Room.

They are being turned away, but the 22 groups who already use the Eastern Avenue building are still allowed to hold their meetings there — for now.

Some of them, including the Schenectady Wargamers Association, have been told that they will someday have to find somewhere else to go.

“We have been told, ‘This will not go on forever,’ ” said Wargamers Treasurer Eric Paperman.

The Wargamers have held large gaming events at the community center every week for more than five decades. They are such a fixture that gamers can go years without playing and then simply show up without even looking up their website to see if they’re still running games.

“We have people who’ve grown up [playing the games], gone away to college and come back,” Paperman said.

When Price Chopper indicated that the building might someday be sold, the group asked other organizations about rental space. They have at least one affordable option, Paperman said.

“But the deal we get through Price Chopper is a tough one to beat,” he said.

Groups can use the building for free, Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub said.

In its heyday, 50 to 60 groups used it every year. Now, with no new groups allowed in to replace those that fade away, there were 22 groups using the building last year.

Golub said Price Chopper hasn’t made a decision about the building yet.

Officials have discussed “potentially selling the building,” she said, but have not made a decision.

And there’s no sign they’ll make one soon, she added.

“There have been no recent discussions,” she said.

She said the company decided to stop allowing new groups to use the building when Price Chopper moved its offices out of the building.

That made it “considerably more difficult” to run the building, because staffers had to be sent to lock and unlock it for groups, she said.

Some groups left when they were warned that the building might be sold a few years ago.

“We were surprised when we were allowed to continue for several years,” said Community Land Trust Executive Director Bev Burnett.

She found a new site for CLT’s Eviction Task Force after her preferred dates weren’t available at the community room. The task force meets in a church now.

The Northeastern Woodworkers Association, which got its start at the community room, moved to the Shaker Meeting House.

Many other groups remain, including the 12309 and Eastern Avenue neighborhood associations and the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change group.

The Wargamers might buy the building if it is put up for sale, Paperman said.

“Whether that would be a pipe dream or a real one, I can’t judge,” he said. “If we have a couple hundred people who are irregular members, how many people could we get to contribute how much?”

He added that he’s not sure if it’s a good idea — there would be taxes and maintenence. But it’s tempting.

“It would be a shame to have to move,” he said, citing the group’s decades at the building.

Paperman said his group had also asked nonprofits about rental space and found they could rent a comparable space for $100 a day.

school options

There are other options. Any Schenectady-based group can use school facilities.

If their events end an hour before the building custodian leaves, and they don’t leave a mess, they can use a school building, spokeswoman Karen Corona said.

“We like the schools to be the center of the community,” she said. “We’re here for the community.”

But if they charge people to attend their event, they must pay the school district a small fee. The charge for classrooms is $60 an hour on weekdays and $80 an hour on weekends.

The library is also a choice — but not for regular meetings. The four library rooms that can be rented, including the McChesney Room, are so heavily used that no group can use them more than three times a year, Director Karen Bradley said.

“If we opened it up to regular usage once a month, we wouldn’t have room for library programs, so many groups want that,” she said. “To be equitable and fair, we’d like to make it available to as many groups as possible.”

Library programs also have first dibs, and agencies can’t reserve a space earlier than eight weeks before the event.

But the board of trustees is revisiting those rules now, Bradley said.

“We welcome the use of our facilities,” she said. “We do wish to accommodate as many groups as possible.”

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