Fifteen of 89 – some 16 percent – of the buildings on campus at The College of Saint Rose are vacant, or unoccupied, at a time when the college is trying to improve its financial outlook.
Three of the College’s properties, 192 Partridge St., 194 Partridge St., and 962 Madison Ave. were valued at $407,400 as of March of this year, according to city assessment records. The College paid more than $1 million for those three properties. As of this month according to Zillow, a real estate database, the value of those three properties had dropped by a combined total of $599,600.
The College bought 879 Madison Ave. for $900,000 in 2011, according to a Chronicle story from April 2016. Although it is currently unoccupied, the current assessed value is more than $1.2 million, according to city assessment records.A Freedom of Information request seeking the purchase history of other campus buildings has not yet been fulfilled by the city.
Saint Rose was purchasing buildings as late as October 2014. Six months later, in March, President Stefanco announced the creation of a “Deficit Reduction Task Force,” aimed at reducing “the College’s structural deficit,” according to an email sent to faculty.
Two of the buildings – 962 Madison Ave. and 194 Partridge Ave. – have a red placard with a half a white ‘x’ through the middle which indicates that it is of high risk for first responders.
The city Fire Department is responsible for installing placards on the buildings around the City of Albany, according to Joe Toomey, deputy chief of the Albany Fire Department. Chief Toomey and his staff first became aware of the buildings through New York State code enforcement. Toomey said code enforcement informs the fire department which buildings need to be inspected and then the fire department determines if they are safe or unsafe.
The city chooses between three types of placards to place on buildings, said the Albany Fire Department. They each have a different level of structural safety awareness. A red placard with a diagonal line, or half an “x” states that the building is vacant and is potentially unsafe for first responders. The two Saint Rose buildings have this placard. A red placard with a “x” states to first responders that the structure is highly unstable.The standard red placard with no “x” just a white square signifies that the building is deemed vacant by New York State.
“We train our first responders to check the front of buildings before entering,” said Toomey. “There are different severities to each building and we place these signs on vacant buildings to benefit our safety.”
Toomey has been a supporter of the placards since 2015 when New York State adopted them as part of the state’s Fire Code. Toomey said that the placards can be issued for numerous reasons, some of which range from broken exterior staircases to unstable floors within structures.
Five buildings inspected by the New York State Office of Fire Safety and Control in April were cited for being in need of placards. Two of these buildings, 194 Partridge St. and 962 Madison Ave. now have placards, the remaining, 192 Partridge St., 202 Partridge St., and 879 Madison Ave. are not currently placarded. The violations in these three buildings were addressed, making the placards no longer necessary, according Kristen Devoe, director of public information for the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
About 10 years ago the college began buying properties between South Main Avenue to the west and Partridge Street to the east, and in between Western Avenue to the north and Morris Street to the south, creating a well-defined grid where the college operates, according to Debbie Polley, the college’s vice president of finance and administration.
“Of course, there are a few outliers,” said Polley.
Property owners near campus and those outside of the boundary often contact the college to sell their buildings, said Polley. The college buys a number of its properties, too, from absentee landlords who sometimes have let the properties degrade, so the properties are not always in good condition when purchased by the college, she said.
The College’s decision to buy the nearby homes helps to preserve the character of the neighborhood said Polley. “This is how we’re going to define ourselves in the neighborhood,” she said.
The College’s safety and security department has a list of the vacant buildings that get inspected by Saint Rose security officers while conducting their campus wide patrols said Bruce Scott, director of environmental health and safety.
The security department follows the same protocol procedures for both occupied and unoccupied buildings owned by the college.
The unoccupied buildings are patrolled three times daily by Saint Rose security, said Polley, these buildings are heated and maintained in the same ways that the occupied buildings are.
The interior and exterior of the vacant buildings are inspected by Saint Rose facilities department and the director of environmental health and safety twice a month. The buildings are accessed after severe weather conditions. The State Office of Fire Protection and Control (OFPC) annually inspects all of the college’s properties, including those that remain vacant. If there is a fire code violation, Scott said he is informed of the violation and works with the relevant college department to fix the issue.
“Any violations or perceived hazards, whether identified by the OFPC, Security, Facilities or others, are addressed as quickly as possible,” said Scott in an email.
A policy by the college includes outlined details on how to properly maintain and secure buildings that remain vacant. Updates on the status of vacant buildings are given to the Vice President of finance and administration.
In order to preserve occupied buildings, the college also offers a fire and safety inspection for students and faculty. There were two dates for the presentation this semester, but no one attended. Security is planning on offering more dates during the spring semester, though dates have not been chosen yet.
Building inspections are conducted at all private and public universities and colleges in New York State. University at Albany follows a similar protocol as many other colleges in the area including The College of Saint Rose.
According to Karl Kilts, the director of code administration on campus for The University at Albany “UAlbany follows the state regulation by the NYS Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, which requires all universities to be inspected annually.”
Campus authorities at UAlbany reportedly inspect each floor in every building to check for fire and safety violations along with the office of fire prevention and control.
“All inspections are conducted by the Office of Fire Prevention and Control, this applies to both public and private schools,” said Kilts.
The first inspection is in the summer before the students arrive and the final inspection is right before Winter Break in November. Following the initial inspection of spaces at UAlbany, there are two more inspections of deficiencies identified in order to conclude requirements.
Saint Rose plans to tie some of the property purchases to the anticipated new majors it will offer, according to Polley. The school’s strategic plan, adopted in 2016, anticipates using the now vacant space for classrooms for the new majors, Polley said that this can depend on what new majors the college wants to offer.
The school is also looking at other possible uses for the vacant buildings. Polley said that students from other colleges often come to Albany for internships and that these buildings could be used as housing for those students during that semester. The buildings can also be used as swing space. If a particular office needs some sort of renovation, the people who occupy that office can be temporarily moved into one of the vacant buildings while their office is being fixed.
Another plan for the spaces includes reserving four of the 15 buildings for the incoming students in the spring semester, said Scott.
This story was reported by Executive Editor Kyle Pratt, Opinion Editor Taylor Farnsworth, Arts Editor Elizabeth Valentin, Staff Writer Cody Mooney, and Contributing Writer Cheyenne Birmingham