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Historic Former Doane Stuart School Burns in Massive Fire in Albany

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

ALBANY, NY - A piece of Albany history was lost as fire consumed the former Doane Stuart School in Albany on Thursday evening, March 23rd. 

The City of Albany Fire Department was called to the former Doane Stuart School on Kenwood Road, just off Southern Boulevard/Route 9W, around 6:30 P.M., after numerous 911 calls flooded the dispatch center for reports of flames showing from the building.

The steeple could be seen engulfed in flames from miles away, including from Rensselaer County. Numerous units from Albany Fire called enroute, including personnel stating over the radio they could see fire through the roof from Interstate 787. 

Fire crews faced many challenges with this fire. Crews had difficulty at first getting access to the scene since they had to cut through the gate on one end of the property, as well as trees blocking the road on the other end. Access to the rear of the structure was also prevented due to the path behind blocked by fire and in the collapse zone.

Mutual aid was requested from several fire departments to assist fighting the massive blaze. Troy, Watervliet and Watervliet Arsenal fire departments helped cover the City of Albany. The Selkirk Fire Department was dispatched for fire police to assist in traffic control, as well as providing water supply from a hydrant in the Town of Bethlehem and fed water to the scene.

Water supply was a big issue for crews fighting the fire. Several fire hydrants at the scene either did not work, or did not provide enough water pressure for crews to flow enough water onto the fire. One hydrant was found in the area that provided one side of the scene with sufficient water. Another engine from Albany Fire attempted to connect to a hydrant on the opposite side of Southern Boulevard, closing all four lanes, but soon realized that hydrant would not provide sufficient water pressure either.

Selkirk Fire connected to a hydrant in the Town of Bethlehem on the opposite side of the Normanskill Bridge, laying 1,500-feet of supply line to feed water with two pieces of apparatus to an engine from Albany Fire at the end of Kenwood Road, which pumped the water with additional supply line down Kenwood Road to other apparatus at the scene of the fire.

“There was an exceptional amount of hose we needed to lay,” Albany Fire Chief Joseph Gregory said in a press conference. “There was over 2,000-ft. of hose that was laid to get water to this scene.”

Pump operators estimate approximately 600,000-gallons of water was sent from that one hydrant to the scene.

Due to the hoseline in the roadway, both lanes of Route 9W/Southern Boulevard heading into Albany were closed from Corning Hill Road until the Speedway Gas Station next to Kenwood Road for the duration of the incident.

Crews also faced numerous portions of building collapse. The fire was so heavily involved upon arrival, crews used a defensive attack only and no firefighters could go inside. There were several portions of the building that collapsed during the firefight, including the steeple, which collapsed soon after firefighters arrived on the scene.

Wind also played a factor, hindering firefighting efforts. Firefighters' main concern was containing the fire and preventing it from spreading to any other buildings in the area.

“With the wind factor and the embers that were flying, we were very lucky in preventing any issues with that,” Chief Gregory said.

The fire was put under control in four hours, but a portion of the building flared back up just after midnight. Most water operations were shut down around 2:00 A.M., while an engine remained on scene hitting hotspots into the morning.

The land in front of the building was overgrown and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said in a press conference that the land was cleared this past August.

“Had this not been done, I don’t know what would have happened,” Sheehan said. “It would have been very difficult for our fire crews to get to this building and provided some significant challenges for them.”

There were no injuries reported on the scene.

Members of the Selkirk Fire Auxiliary brought water and Gatorade as well as pizza, which was donated by R Pizza House in Selkirk and Pop’s Pizza in Cohoes, to the more than 50 firefighters on the scene.

The building has not been owned by the Doane Stuart School in years.

“Doane Stuart was a tenant of the property from 1975 until June of 2009 when we moved to our current campus in Rensselaer,” according to a post on the school’s Facebook page.

Sheehan said the building was sold back in 2017 to Kenwood Commons, LLC. She says construction work began with plans that included condos and apartment space, when construction was then abandoned in 2019.

The site was frequently visited by people who vandalized the property. There have been several legal battles over the property, whose current owners filed for bankruptcy. Sheehan says the property went to auction just two days before the fire occurred.

“The bankruptcy proceeding was allowed to go forward,” she said. That determination was made on Monday and then on Tuesday there was an auction.”

Multiple local and state teams are currently investigating the cause of the fire, which is taking time due to investigators not being able to walk inside most of the building from collapsed floors.

The Doane Stuart Board of Trustees released a statement on Facebook regarding the loss of their building that dates back to the 1800’s.

“The Kenwood Campus was a magical, peaceful, safe and blessed home,” the statement read. “Our current Board consists of parents of students who enjoyed the campus, alumni who knew this place intimately as students, and others who were intimately involved in Doane Stuart’s birth almost 50-years ago. This is an exceptionally sad time for so many; know you are in our thoughts and prayers.”

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THOMAS MARRA Correspondent

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