After fire, 103-year-old ex-school razed

Schenectady firefighter is hurt during blaze at Brandywine Avenue

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Saturday, November 17, 2007

SCHENECTADY - The city ordered demolition of the former Brandywine Elementary School building on Friday to help firefighters extinguish smoldering pockets of a blaze that broke out in the early morning.

The cause of the fire in the vacant brick structure at 108 Brandywine Ave. was under investigation, officials said. The city recently had renewed legal action against the owners, who bought the building from the city school district in 2000, for failing to secure the structure, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said. The city building code requires that vacant buildings be closed up to prevent use by drug dealers, prostitutes or vagrants, who may start fires inside to keep warm, he said.

"It's a big building, and most recently, we got notice that it had been opened up again and there were some kids inside it," Van Norden said.

The city Fire Department received a report of smoke in the air on State Street, a block away from the Brandywine and Becker Street school location, shortly after 3 a.m., Assistant Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said.

Initially, firefighters tried to work from inside, but they shifted to an outside attack when the platoon commander determined that the fire was growing quickly and dangerously, he said.

Firefighter Paramedic Dan Minersagen, who was operating a pump, was hit in the face by a piece of falling roof slate. He was referred to a plastic surgeon for stitches to close a cut near his eye, Della Rocco said.

Brandywine Avenue was closed between Bradley and State streets, and Becker Street was closed at McClellan Street while firefighters and demolition crews worked.

Built in 1904, the Brandywine school housed a teacher training program and elementary school from 1906 until 1925, district spokeswoman Karen Corona said. It remained an elementary school until 1974, and was used as the district's administrative headquarters from 1975 to 1995.

The building was sold in 2000 for $50,000 to a partnership that planned to convert it to senior citizen apartments. One of the owners, Richard Barden, was at the fire scene on Friday, Van Norden said.

The old school has been the scene of two other unexplained fires during its vacancy, Della Rocco said. One was in the spring of this year, he said, and he estimated that the other incident was five to seven years ago.

The owners have been delinquent in their property taxes for several years, and the authority to collect the money was among millions in back-tax rights sold by the city to American Tax Funding of Florida in 2004, Van Norden said.

The city lawyer said that Barden indicated in a conversation at the fire scene Friday that he recently had completed a contract to sell the school.

"Unfortunately, the building will be on the ground by morning," he said.

Cathy Woodruff can be reached at 454-5093 or by e-mail at