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Artwork breathes new life into old school

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KINDERHOOK–The Village Planning and Zoning Boards held a joint public hearing this week on the plans for the Martin Van Buren School building to become a museum and storage space for gallery owner Jack Shainman.
Mr. Shainman, who is in the process of purchasing the school for $550,000 from the Ichabod Crane School District, attended the November 26 meeting, answering questions from the two boards and many of the 25 residents in the audience. He said he is “close, close…” to acquiring the empty school building. Mr. Shainman owns a gallery in New York City and has a home in Stuyvesant Falls. He said that 2/5 of the school building, which the district closed last year due to declining enrollment, will be storage for his collection. “We work with a lot of very large, like museum-size, works,” said Mr. Shainman. He said he sells pieces ranging in price from $500 to $2 million. He currently stores some of the artwork at Func Art Design in the Village of Kinderhook and uses that company for moving his pieces. 
He also plans to have private showings at the school building and may have public exhibitions in the summer.
The school is in a residential zone and Mr. Shainman does plan to add some apartments on the upper floors of the building. He has hired an “art handler” who will live at the building; he may use another apartment for artists in residence. Looking to the future, he hopes to hold events at the building for local non-profits and possibly having foundation for new artists.
His engineer, Pat Prendergast, said that there will be no changes to the outside of the building and stressed that Mr. Shainman’s usage would fit under the “cultural facility” definition in the village’s zoning laws.
Some neighbors had concerns about the loading of artwork and traffic in and out of the building. Mr. Shainman pointed out that the school had 60 buses a day parking in front, as well as deliveries and parents coming and going. “Mine would be a speck of dust compared to that,” he said of deliveries he would have. “My business is very, very discreet,” he told the neighbors.
The other worry residents expressed was that the proposed use of the building would be more commercial than a museum. “Museums don’t sell the objects,” said one neighbor.
Zoning Board member William Van Alstyne said that the Planning Board would decide at a later meeting whether to require Mr. Shainman to apply for a special use permit.
Planning Board Chairman Bruce Charbonneau said that though his board was not making any decisions at this meeting, Monday’s hearing was the right place for residents to voice their opinions, since there will not be another public hearing on this project before the Planning Board meets Thursday, December 6. Mr. Charbonneau said that if residents have any concerns about the special use permit for this project they should put their comments to the board in writing.
The Zoning Board of Appeals agreed that the proposed use would qualify the building as a cultural facility, according to the village zoning code. “I think it squarely fits this,” said ZBA member Sarah Richards.
“We lost a couple of buildings last night,” said Mr. Van Alstyne referring to the fire the destroyed two historic buildings in the village’s business district, “and we certainly don’t need any more vacant buildings in the Village of Kinderhook.”
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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