By DIANE VALDEN
COPAKE—The old Roeliff Jansen School building has deteriorated to the point of no return and steps to condemn the place are underway.
For the past 24 years, since the imposing 97,000 square-foot structure at 9065 State Route 22 has been vacant, many have hoped the old Alma mater to hundreds of Roe Jan area students could be revived for a new purpose. Now that idea seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream.
During his report to the Copake Town Board at its November 9 meeting, Councilmember Stosh Gansowski told board members he had recently visited the property which has now been mostly boarded up.
He spoke to contractors doing the boarding-up job, who told him when they first arrived, eight people came running out of the back of the building, some dragging mattresses behind them. Workers told Mr. Gansowski the ceilings are falling down, graffiti covers the walls, the copper pipe plumbing has been stolen and someone had started a fire of rags and wooden pallets inside the structure to keep warm.
The Sheriff’s Office reports the arrest of two subjects for allegedly stealing copper pipe from the school. (See page 4 of this issue.)
“I hate to say this, but I think the ship has sailed on the Roe Jan School,” said Mr. Gansowski, himself a 1967 graduate of the old high school, where the sports team name was the “Dutchmen.”
“It’s a bad situation having homeless people living in that school,” he said.
“And it’s also full of asbestos,” added Councilmember Terry Sullivan.
“There are all kinds of liability issues,” noted Councilmember Richard Wolf.
Workers were “worried about stuff collapsing on them” when they went inside to recover instruments. Workers threw out someone living there as late as last Tuesday, noted Mr. Gansowski, who said he asked Building Inspector Erin Reis to look into the condemnation process.
Copake Supervisor Jeanne Mettler, a 1970 Roe Jan grad, who described the condition of the school as “horrible” and “shocking,” said she had also spoken to the building inspector and gotten Town Attorney Jon Tingley involved. She said she would ask the building inspector to begin the proceeding “as quickly as possible so we can get this into court.”
The building owner is Markland Columbia LLC, according to the 2023 Copake final town assessment roll. The school and its surrounding 39.30 acres is assessed at $750,000 and its full market value is $1,041,667.
A Google search of Markland Columbia LLC turned up information that it was established January 30, 2014 as a domestic limited liability company type registered at 2447 Third Avenue Bronx, New York, in the county of Nassau. The current entity status is active.
An email to the company for comment on the current condition of the school property, the owner’s intentions for the building and the asking price did not receive a response.
The school became vacant in 1999, when the Taconic Hills School District moved all its students to one new consolidated campus at 73 County Route 11A, Craryville. The first graduating class at the new home of the Titans was the Class of 2000.
The old Roe Jan school, built in 1932 of brick and masonry construction with a slate roof, is mostly two-stories, with a subsequent one-story addition in 1962.
As recently as January of this year, the old school was under consideration as a possible site for an affordable housing project by RUPCO (Rural Ulster Preservation Company). In a January 12, 2023 Columbia Paper story, “Group tours old Roe Jan School for possible housing,” Ancram Town Councilmember Amy Gold, who went on the tour with the RUPCO representative as part of the Roe Jan Workforce Housing Task Force, said that the original intent was to assess the building for workforce housing. She said though the building “is in terrible disrepair” and much of it would have to be torn down, the representative thought there were elements of it that could be salvaged to maintain its historical designation.
In a May 21, 2021 Columbia Paper story, “New plan eyes old school as hotel,” it was reported that the Copake Economic Development Advisory Committee (CEDAC), had formulated a detailed plan to get a qualified developer to buy and fix up the former Roeliff Jansen Central School and make it into “destination or resort hotel property.”
Over the years, other proposals for rejuvenating the old school included, as a home for wayward youth; a basketball camp; a nursing home; and a cannabis growing facility. None of which came to fruition.
In an emailed comment on the conditions at Roe Jan, Supervisor Mettler wrote to The Columbia Paper:
“During the summer, the Copake Code Enforcement Officer wrote to the owner of the Roeliff Jansen School building, advising him of issues on the property that required attention. Some of those issues have been addressed, including mowing of the lawn and boarding up of some windows and doors. The town is still not satisfied with the condition of the property and is taking additional steps with the owner. If the issues on the property are not rectified, the town intends to pursue available legal remedies to achieve compliance.”
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