EATON RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - An aging 80-year-old elementary school where thousands of kids were educated for more than five decades sits within the boundaries of the city’s historic district and is poised for an $8.5 million redevelopment into affordable senior housing.
The Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/2oBQSSP ) reports that King Street School, built in 1938, served as an elementary school for over 50 years and, by 2003, housed community education classes. The 35,000-square-foot building has been vacant, the front entrance locked and secured with chains, for more than a decade.
But if Home Renewal Systems, LLC, a Farmington Hills-based development company, can secure federal and state tax credits this summer it plans to purchase the property, restore its historic features and redevelop it as 36 low-income apartments for senior citizens.
The company’s calling the project “Bridge View Senior Apartments.”
It’s the second vacant school to draw redevelopment interest.
On Monday afternoon Rick Ballard, an East Lansing consultant who represents Home Renewal Systems, stood on the sidewalk just outside King Street School.
The brick building’s one-and-a-half acres in the 200 block of King Street borders residential neighborhoods and sits next to Old School Apartments, another former school building. Most of King Street School’s massive exterior windows have been filled in, but Ballard said if its redevelopment happens those will be restored to their original design so the high ceiling apartments planned for inside are flooded with plenty of light.
Tenants in the 30 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom apartments would be within walking distance of downtown Eaton Rapids and a bridge that crosses the Grand River too.
And the school’s old gymnasium, which occupies just over 2,000 square feet of space, would include a fitness loft for residents stocked with exercise equipment, but it would also be open for community use. Plans call for the creation of a library and lounge areas inside the building and restoration of a stone porch in front.
Ballard said repurposing an aging school while maintaining its historic design is a challenge Home Renewal Systems is familiar with.
Last year the company’s historic renovation of the former Freemont High School in Freemont, Michigan into The Gateway, a 38-unit low-income senior housing complex, earned the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation. And construction is already underway in downtown Marquette on the company’s redevelopment of Holy Family Orphanage into 56 low-income apartments.
Ballard said historic redevelopment projects usually mean a great deal to people who live nearby.
“There is a strong, emotional attachment to buildings like this,” Ballard said. “We certainly get wrapped up in them.”
So too, does the community. Local resident Ben Graham has preliminary plans to redevelop Eaton Rapids Public School’s former Northwestern Elementary, built in 1959, and the project has drawn a great deal of interest from residents, many who attended classes or taught there.
Deb Malewski is vice chair of the Eaton Rapids Planning Commission. She said the plans Home Renewal Systems have for the King Street property were presented to city officials for the first time earlier this year - and were well received.
“We were very impressed,” she said. “It would be a great asset to the city. It’s a beautiful building and it would be a total shame to lose it. We don’t want to see a perfectly good building that’s built to last get torn down.”
Ballard said the development has the necessary approvals from city officials but is still dependent on federal and state tax credits.
Home Renewal Systems’ purchase agreement to buy the property will move forward if an estimated $8 million in federal historic tax credits and low-income state tax credits are awarded for its development, he said.
The company will apply for both this month and should know if they’ll receive them sometime this summer, Ballard said.
Construction could start by the end of the year, and could finish by the fall of 2018, he said.
“It will look like it looked in 1938,” Ballard said, of the building. “We would be looking to redevelop it according to the national historic standards. It basically means we need to maintain the character defining elements of the building. In other words, when you walk into it, what is it that tells you it was a school?”
The school’s wide hallways, large windows and open spaces will be incorporated into the design process.
Working around the history of a building comes with challenges, Ballard said.
“Buildings like this weren’t meant to be repurposed,” he said. “They were meant to last forever as schools. It’s a wonderful building, but you gotta tear a lot of stuff apart to get new heating and air conditioning and electrical and plumbing. Residential use is totally different.”
Ballard said plans call for the King Street School property to be outfitted with several modern perks, including geothermal heating under a new parking lot that will allow for heating and cooling costs to be included in a tenant’s rent. Rental rates would range from $329 to $717 a month depending on a person’s income.
Ballard said the finished building would be an asset to the community.
“We believe projects like this bring more value to a community than new construction, but only if they’re done right,” he said. “This building lends itself to the development.”
Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com
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