The Belleville Middle School closer to becoming Buffalo Apartments.

*Updated May 15th, 2014 at the Buffalo Apartment ground breaking ceremony.*

The Belleville Telescope reported this week (May 29th, 2013) on the progress of the Buffalo Apartment Project undertaken by former Belleville resident Ross Freeman.

From classrooms to bedrooms

School property will contain 52 apartments with a maximum capacity of 108 residents.

A new stampede may be heard in the hallways of the Republic County Middle School, 18th and K ST, within 18 months, when the Pioneer Buffalo Apartments are scheduled to open.

ross freeman 001
Photo by Belleville Telescope

Developer Ross Freeman detailed plans for the apartments in the school building, as well as two eight-unit apartment houses and four two-story townhouses the Pioneer Group plans to build on the property. The apartments will face K ST, and the townhouses will face 16th ST.

In all, the company plans to create 24 apartments in the historic school building, and 32 new units on the perimeter of the property, Freeman told about three dozen people at a meeting at the site May 24. “This is an approximately $9 million project,” he said. “We’ll be bringing our construction company from Topeka, but hire as many local sub contractors as we can.”

Freeman said the building is unusual for a Pioneer project because it is well maintained. Some of the historic buildings the company restores have been vacant for a number of years. The project has been approved for Kansas Housing tax credits, which will provide the bulk of the equity for the project, Freeman said. Pioneer Group is also applying for historic tax credits from state and federal resources.

Construction is expected to begin in September, he said. The metal annex building to the north will be razed after the school district cleans items from the building. Freeman said Pioneer’s plans for Belleville have evolved over time. The group first considered restoring the Republic Hotel at the corner of 17th and M STs, but abandoned those plans because of the cost of renovation was too high, he said. “In the meantime, we discovered my high school–your middle school–would become available,” said Freeman, who is a native of Belleville. “We looked at vacant ground that would be available for apartments. The idea of additional townhomes came out of that process.

“It wasn’t where we started, but I loved where we ended up,” he says. USD 109 school board president Layne Holmes told Freeman, “We appreciate what you’ve done for us so far.” “So often any times school buildings are closed and there’s no use for them.”

The USD 109 board voted last fall to close the Middle School at the end of the 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 has agreed to pay the school district $72,275 for the property, plus $900 a month until the contract closing to cover the district’s utility and maintenance expenses, as well as closing costs.

Variety of space

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. Rents will range from $440 per month for a one-bedroom income qualified unit, to $725 per month for a three-bedroom townhouse 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. The townhouses will include a garage. The apartments are available for singles and families of all ages, Freeman said. “People told us mixing generations in one complex would not be good,” he said. “We thought differently. “What turned out is that most senior residents in school building are widows, widowers, grandmothers,” he said. “In a couple situations the grandmother lives in one building, a daughter and children in the town homes “A number of grandmothers have adopted children “unofficially”. There’s been a really good mixing of the generations.”In one complex, Freeman moved a piano owned by his mother, the late Mildred Freeman, into an atrium. That piano is now being used by older women to give lessons to the children in the complex, he said. Freeman said the gymnasium of the school building will remain the same, and be open to the public for a variety of uses. “The school can use it for basketball practices,” he said.


Photo by Luke Mahin

Apartments will be created in the balcony area of the auditorium, the space under the balcony, and the north side of the stage, he said. But the front portion of the auditorium —including the stage frame and curtains, and the three full length windows on each side of the auditorium—will remain. “With the curtains closed, it will look as it looks today,” he said. “In one of our projects in Salina, the residents use the auditorium area for programs, stage shows and musicals,” he said. “They’ve made good use of the space.” Freeman said when one of Pioneer Group’s representatives made a trip to Belleville recently, the most frequently asked question was “What’s going to happen to the auditorium?”

Freeman said the first apartment building is projected to be ready in July 2014, the first townhouse in August, and the school building and the remainder of the project completed by December 2014. Pioneer Group anticipates taking applications for rentals next spring, he said. Pioneer Group plans to close on six other projects besides the Buffalo Apartments in September. “It’s going to be a busy year for us,” he said. “You start with a dream, and it’s amazing where it takes you.”

Below are site plan images of the Buffalo Apartments project. Click the links for the PDF versions.

Project Site Plan – PDF


What the town-homes will look like.










Town-homes with playground equipment.













Buffalo Apartments – PDF


Eightplex & Four-plex – PDF

Eightplex & Fourplex