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Successful Reuse of Vacant Public School Buildings

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MUSA Citizen
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    Posted: Jun 14 2018 at 6:00pm
In talking with people like VietVet, Vivian Moon, etc., I can empathize with their sadness in knowing that the days of the former Middletown High School are numbered.  Could there have been a concerted attempt to seek an adaptive reuse of this landmark building?

Immediately following is a HUD - Arkansas State Office archived news release featuring the successful reuse of the former Hot Springs, Arkansas High School in 2006.  This is but one example of how progressive communities nationwide have retained/revitalized key historic and architecturally significant buildings.


From High School to Lofts

[Photo 1:  Exterior view of building]
Built in 1914, the Gothic Revival building was the Hot Springs High School.
[Photo 2:  Interior view of apartment]
These loft apartments help the disabled live independently.
[Photo 3:  Officials chatting]
Little Rock HUD Director Bessie Jackson (left) chats with Steve Hitt, CEO, and Cynthia Stone, Assistant Executive Director, of the ARC of Arkansas.
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is known, among other things, as a home of former President Bill Clinton.

The Hot Springs High School building that was in use when the former president was a student had stood vacant in the community for many years. Built in 1914, the Gothic Revival building was considered an important historical landmark worthy of preserving. Unfortunately, the building had very limited options for productive reuse.

Enter the ARC of Arkansas, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Little Rock that had made extensive use of historic buildings in the Central Arkansas area by converting them to loft apartments to provide independent living units for handicapped persons. ARC acquired the former high school building and was able to put together a financing package to create 32 apartments in the structure.

The $4.2 million project included $100,000 in CDBG funds from the City of Hot Springs and $400,000 in State HOME funds provided by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. The dedication of the Hot Springs High School Lofts was held on January 19, 2006.

The completion of the project was a dream come true for many community leaders who had striven to preserve and renovate the historic structure that still evokes a host of memories for the many who had once frequented its halls. "The Lofts project took nearly a year, incorporating the very best in adaptive reuse principles and construction techniques," said Nelson Self, CDBG Administrator for the City of Hot Springs. "This multi-partner endeavor features ADA-compliant Universal Design principles that afford physically challenged occupants the maximum amount of accessibility and livability."

[Photo 4:  Officials dedicate the building]
The dedication of the Hot Springs High School Lofts was held on January 19, 2006.


According to Steven Hitt, Chief Executive Officer of the ARC, this project would not have been possible were it not for a layering of project funding. Most of the new apartments had already been leased to tenants indicating a high demand for the units.

The HUD Field Office in Arkansas is very proud to have played a role in helping to preserve this historic Arkansas structure and is particularly proud that its reuse will provide housing for lower income, disabled citizens of the state.

Content Archived: July 14, 2011

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MUSA Citizen
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Analytical Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 15 2018 at 12:45am

Former Page Woodson School gets reimagined as a housing complex 

BY LAURA EASTES     June 14, 2017Newly renovated apartments at Page Woodson School, Wednesday, June 7, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Newly renovated apartments at Page Woodson School, Wednesday, June 7, 2017.

“We didn’t know what we would do with the building,” developer Ron Bradshaw explained to Oklahoma Gazette when standing in the newly renovated auditorium lobby in the 90,000-square-foot building, historically known as Douglass High School and last known as Page Woodson School, in northeast Oklahoma City.

With the auditorium doors open as workmen made some final touches inside, Bradshaw stood a few yards away from where OKC legends like Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing performed in school concerts and NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, offered a community update in the legal battle between Ada Lois Sipuel and the University of Oklahoma Law School.

The 1910 Classical Revival-style, red brick school building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places a decade ago, was sold to Bradshaw in 2013. Part of the father-son team responsible for the Maywood Apartments and Civic Center Flats, among other downtown living projects, Bradshaw held a desire to bring living accommodations to the neighborhoods surrounding University of Oklahoma (OU) Health Sciences Center and east of downtown. After the purchase, Bradshaw turned to the northeast community for aid in determining the building’s future.

There was an introduction by Ward 7 Councilman John A. Pettis Jr. for Marjorie Young and Gina Sofola, the two who fought to save the historic building a decade earlier with dreams to preserve and reestablish it as a community hub. There were community meetings where nearby residents and alumni added their ideas. There were realities that had to be faced as the 100-year-old building was falling further into disrepair and neglect.

Now, nearly four years after acquiring the property, Bradshaw and his team, which includes Sofola as project manager, are delivering 60 residential apartments, a restored 1930s auditorium and five classrooms-turned-meeting spaces to the community. Additionally, a new 68-unit apartment building rises in the east, while seven three-story walkup apartment buildings are under construction to the north. It’s just the beginning of a six-phase redevelopment, Bradshaw explained.

“We found out the school meant a great deal to the community, the African-American community and this neighborhood,” he said. “What we’ve learned is this is not a project but a neighborhood redevelopment and a catalyst for more.”

Urban living

Called The Douglass, the building’s first resident is expected to move in later this week, and others will soon follow. Prospective tenants who tour the building at 600 N. High Ave. will find a blend of art deco styling and the latest in urban apartment living.

Inside the studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units are chic kitchens with sleek, white countertops and modern stainless steel appliances. Bathrooms floors were laid with hexagon tiles, a style popular in the 1920s and 1930s. In living areas as well as bedrooms, large windows flood the former classrooms with natural daylight.

Some of the rental units feature restored chalkboards or the original gym rafters. Additionally, many of the apartments offer postcard views of downtown OKC. In the hallways, the mosaic tiles from the building’s drinking fountains remain.

What makes this project unique in addition to its renovations is the developer’s use of a low-income tax credit. The Douglass provides a range of affordable living options, and tenants must qualify to access the affordable living price. Similarly, The Douglass Next Door, 601 N. Stonewall Ave., a brand-new apartment building, offers affordable living price points.

Along NE Sixth Street, seven three-story walk-up apartments are under construction. Called The Seven at Page Woodson, the market-rate rental units are slated for completion in August.

With its close proximity to downtown, the Innovation District and OU Health Science Center, the development was designed to attract young adults beginning their careers, working adults with lower incomes and small families. Additionally, The Douglass and The Douglass Next Door will draw seniors looking to downsize into a smaller place with less upkeep.

School of firsts

In the fall of 1933, the first Douglass students began to attend classes in the old Lowell school building where white grade-school students previously were taught. As OKC’s first segregated African-American high school, building plans were drafted to add an auditorium, a swimming pool, a gymnasium and classrooms. Once complete, it was an impressive institute for learning and a central gathering place for the African-American community.

“This really was the community hub,” Sofola explained. “It was not only a place of educational excellence. In Douglass’ heyday, it was known as the school of firsts.”

The memorable phrase is a catchall to honor the school’s alumni and faculty who left a mark on OKC, the state and the nation in areas of education, music, entertainment, literature, sports and more.

Now, the building with a storied history becomes a first once again as the first abandoned northeast school building to be brought back to life. Gates remain locked, and windows and doors are still boarded up at school sites like nearby Dunbar, Creston Hills and Harmony elementaries.

As he looks upon the former school building, Bradshaw says he hopes it’s the first of many.

Print headline: Community dedication, A former northeast OKCPS school site with a storied history becomes the latest address for urban living

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MUSA Council
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote VietVet Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Jun 15 2018 at 8:13am
Both prime examples of what progressive, imaginative thinking and coordination will accomplish in these posts by Analytical. The old Roosevelt Jr. High school on Central could have been developed just like these projects were. The old Garfield school as well.

Sadly, in Middletown, we have a city government that doesn't value preserving history nor knows how to make the proper connections to make projects like this a reality. It is simply easier to demolish everything in sight leaving desolate vacant land in it's wake. No imagination. No clue on how to use resources to accomplish a successful project. Why don't they talk to cities like this to learn how it's done?

It is the price a city pays when they have allowed the city to fall into such disrepair that developers shun the town as to any interest in development. Same holds true for employer attraction. Both stay away and head for greener pastures.

In the city's current state, there simply isn't anything that developers nor employers find attractive enough to motivate them to come here.

How did the city decline so badly over the last three decades?

If they are bound and determined to demolish the old high school, I wish they would at least keep the Miller Gym for posterity. So much history there and is a bastion of sports excellence for this city. Would make an ideal rec center for the kids to play basketball, etc. in the winter months. Just a thought city leaders. How about intramural basketball leagues during the winter months? Tie it into the YMCA system somehow. Put an indoor track upstairs. Too nice of a facility to demolish.
I'm so proud of my hometown and what it has become. Recall 'em all. Let's start over.
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