WILLSBORO - The plan of one local developer to convert the former Willsboro High School into an assisted living home has been granted the financing it needs to become a reality.
Eli Schwartzberg, head of Stonebrook Properties, Inc., announced Aug. 20 that his company was recently approved for a loan guarantee through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program, which will allow for work to continue on the $6 million renovation project.
The loan guarantee program has expanded tremendously in recent years with a boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It facilitates loans from local lenders that finance up to 80 percent of projects that create jobs and improve economic conditions in rural areas.
With financing now in place, Schwartzberg said, work will resume in December to renovate the interior of the former school and give it new life as a 62-unit senior housing facility named Champlain Valley Senior Community.
An Adirondack native from Saranac Lake, Schwartzberg is a graduate of Cornell University with a Masters of Business Administration from Oxford University and a background in real estate development. He said it has been his goal to use that expertise to invest in a project that will strengthen economic conditions in the region.
"A lot of developers don't come up here," said Schwartzberg. "You've got to understand the Adirondacks to do a project like this."
The 42,000-square-foot school building was built in 1927 and closed in 2001 when the new Willsboro Central School was built. It became a topic of controversy in the town as it sat vacant and unsold for seven years. School and town officials had considered tearing the building down until Schwartzberg approached them in 2008 with a plan to purchase and renovate it.
Now the town no longer has to worry about the cost to demolish the old school, said town board member Charles Lustig Jr., and the historic building will be restored as a boon to the community.
"We've had immeasurable support for the project," Schwartzberg said. "I'm really proud of it."
The project has also been strongly supported by the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). "The impact that this project will have on Willsboro and the surrounding community will be enormous and we whole heartly endorse it, said Executive Director Mike Conway.
Schwartzberg's development company has already invested in major repairs to the building, fixing a leaky roof and a broken pipe that had caused significant water damage. He also spearheaded efforts to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which will allow him to claim tax credits for some of the renovation costs.
The Champlain Valley Senior Community, when finished, will include single- and double-occupancy rooms, a community dining hall serving three meals a day, and possibly a fitness center and indoor walking track.
The facility will target seniors of all income levels, said Schwartzberg, with affordable options for all.
"Eighty percent of the rooms are going to look over the Boquet River," Schwartzberg said. "The rooms will have 14-foot ceilings, and the original hard-wood, large windows. It's going to have so much character."
Schwartzberg expects the facility to open by the end of 2011. He anticipates about 30 full-time employees will be hired to staff it.
"It's going to create jobs," said Schwartzberg. "It's going to contribute to the Adirondack Econonomy, save a historic Adirondack structure, provide jobs for young families, help keep young people here and provide valuable services to seniors in the Adirondack Park."
In addition, he said, it will encourage those visiting their relatives at the senior home to also patronize restaurants and stores in Willsboro.
"Everyone I've talked to is very excited about it," said deputy town supervisor Nancy Huestis, noting several local residents have already expressed interest in utilizing the facility when it opens. "It's going to improve the appearance of downtown."
For more information about the Champlain Valley Senior Community, including early-bird registration, call 1-888-963-1110.