From classrooms to living rooms (Belleville Telescope)

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Local and state officials were on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony at the future home of the Buffalo Apartments, formerly the Republic County Middle School at 18th and K. From left are Michael Couch, USD 109 superintendent; Melinda Pierson, director Belleville Chamber and Main Street, Belleville City Manager Neal Lewis, Belleville Mayor Tatum Couture, Fred Bentley with Kansas Housing Resource Commission (issuer of the housing tax credits), Republic County Economic Development Director Luke Mahin, Greg Hand with WNC (tax credit syndicator), and Ross Freeman, president of the Pioneer Group.

Work begins to turn former school into housing complex

By Deb Hadachek
Belleville Telescope editor

When he left the halls of the old Belleville High School in 1957, Ross Freeman, Topeka, could little imagine that he would be back 57 years later with a new plan for its future. But Thursday, Freeman, a developer who specializes in turning historic buildings into housing units, was back at the school for the groundbreaking of a 56-unit apartment complex in Belleville.

“So much of my growing up occurred in that building,” says Freeman, of the building, which served as the city’s high school until the new building was built in east Belleville in the early 1960s. “Being able to see it preserved for the future is a neat feeling.”

The campus, which was most recently the Republic County Middle School, will include 24 apartments inside the building, two apartment buildings facing K ST with eight units each; and four town houses with garages that will face 17th ST on the north side of the block.

One, two and three bedroom units will be available.

Apartments in the school building should be ready to rent by December 31, Freeman said, and the remaining units completed in the first half of 2015.

“We have already had people who have indicated interest and contacted the property manager,” Freeman said. “What was very exciting for us–which we had heard before and was amplified Thursday–was the tremendous growth potential expected in Republic County in the coming years,” he said. “The availability of rental units will be attractive for our growing workforce with new residents,” agrees Luke Mahin, Republic County economic development directior.

“Also many elderly residents looking to remain in the community with will now have the ability to move to a more manageable property, thus opening up housing for new ownership in the area.”

“Belleville is very fortunate the Pioneer Group Inc. is preserving a viable historic building while retaining the public spaces within it,” Mahin adds. “This project will have a much larger impact on our housing cycle in Belleville than just what is on that property”

Historic preservation

The Pioneer Group specializes in creating affordable housing in historic buildings. The $9 million project is being funded in part by Kansas Housing tax credits, and historic tax credits from state and federal resources.

The metal annex building north of the school will be razed to make room for the apartment buildings. The front portion of the auditorium—including seating, the stage frame and curtains, and the three full length windows on each side of the auditorium—will remain. The gymnasium of the school building will remain the same, and be open to the public for a variety of uses.

The USD 109 board voted in the fall of 2012 to close the building at the end 2012-13 school year. The building has only housed grades 5 and 6 for the last several years, after 7th and 8th grades were moved to the Republic County High School campus.

Pioneer Group paid the school district $72,275 for the property. Seventy-five percent of the units will be available on an “income qualified” basis, for singles or families whose annual income does not exceed a certain level.

Twenty-five percent of the units will be rented at market rate.

Units will be one, two, and three bedroom. In the school building, units will be built within the existing classrooms. Those rooms are all slightly different sizes, and will range from 624 sq. ft. for a one bedroom unit to 969 for two bedrooms.

The new apartments will be 924 sq. ft., and the townhouses each 1,400 sq. ft.

“It is neat for me to be able to give back to the community in a way that will be permanent and here long after I’m gone,” Freeman adds. Those interested in renting these units can find more information here.

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