Renovation of former school receives financing

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.

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