Two multimillion-dollar developments — one for seniors and another for people of all ages — are the latest examples of turning blighted properties into new, affordable housing in Macon.
Apartments are being leased at the A.L. Miller Village, where the former high school and junior high school complex was renovated into housing. Meanwhile, about 5 miles away on Shurling Drive in east Macon, construction is finished at the old Hunt Elementary School that’s now senior housing.
The two projects are good examples of redevelopments that address some of the county’s long-term blight remediation, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.
“To have two organizations come in and redevelop these abandoned and blighted structures is great for the neighborhoods, and it’s the type of partnership we’d like to have brought to the table in other areas,” Floore said in an email. “Both Hunt School and A.L Miller High have long been closed and falling into disrepair (Miller, especially), and In-Fill Housing and Oracle Consulting are both bringing the structures back to life and attracting residents to those areas.”
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At the Hunt Senior Village, two new buildings have one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments for people 62 and older. Also, the school’s auditorium and cafeteria have been transformed into a community building that includes a computer room and fitness center.
So far, about half of the 60 units have been leased to tenants. The rent is based on the residents’ income level.
The project was led by In-Fill Housing, the nonprofit arm of the Macon-Bibb County Housing Authority. The project received about $9 million in private investment. There was also a $450,000 loan from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, and Macon-Bibb County also contributed about $1 million.
The complex was designed by BTBB inc. Architects/Planners and constructed by Stafford Builders. The project faced some severe budget constraints during the summer of 2015, but once that was resolved and construction began in March 2016, there were no major hitches.
“Construction has gone really well,” said Anthony Hayes, president and CEO of In-Fill Housing. “We have a good contractor with Stafford Builders who did a wonderful job. We’re very pleased with the quality of work, and now it’s on us to get it rented up and leased out.”
One of the first renters was 69-year-old Annie Joyce Capers, who moved into her apartment in March.
“When I moved here, it reminded me of my home I used to live in,” she said. “It has a dishwasher, self-cleaning oven, ... ice maker. It is just a lovely place. And there’s safety and security and all that above.”
Before the major overhaul began in November 2015, the A.L. Miller complex on Montpelier Avenue was in such disrepair that it was listed on the "places in peril" list by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
The 62-apartment project features two buildings, the largest being the former high school, dubbed “the castle” because of its architectural design, and the former middle school, which was built a couple decades later. The school campus was built in different eras from 1929-1930 and 1949-1950.
Oracle Consulting, based in Louisville, Kentucky, and Peachtree Housing Communities in Atlanta are co-developers of the $13 million project, which received both low-income housing tax credits and historic tax credits.
The first group of apartments should be ready in about a week, and about mid-May the remaining apartments should be as well. On the adjacent Birch Street are nine single-family homes.
The renovations were able to get rolling with the aid of tax credits. Because of the historic designation, the renovations meant preserving much of the original features of the two schools.
But dealing with structures as old as the Miller buildings meant challenges along the way. There was a leak inside one of the walls. And a fire in 2015 destroyed a former gymnasium and cafeteria.
“You try to assume and try to plan for those kind of contingencies and you do your best,” Oracle Consulting architect Mark Wright said. “It’s worth it in the end because you get a project that’s so unique. There’s no way to manufacture the beauty in these buildings. They’re full of this collective memory that’s shared by everyone in this community.”
Contractors were able to restore the original wood ceiling inside a former auditorium that’s now a community center. And the former high school’s original wood flooring and wood trim base were repaired inside the apartment units.
“We’ve kept every wood floor possible,” Wright said. “Anytime we saw wood flooring, we redid it and we put it back.”
The apartments will be available for people who make 60 percent or less of the local median household income. Rent ranges from $396 for a one-bedroom, $589 for two-bedrooms and $669 for three bedrooms.
The Miller development also received $400,000 in blight bond money from then-County Commissioner Ed DeFore for a rehabilitation project within a half-mile radius of the former schools. That work includes repaving asphalt and either demolishing or rehabbing about two dozen structures.
“The city has been unbelievably supportive,” Wright said. “It’s a difficult project but worth it. We’ve had an enormous amount of help.”
A.L. Miller and Hunt schools aren’t the only former schools turned into housing in Macon in recent years.
Pearl Stephens Village, at the site of the former Stephens Elementary School off Napier Avenue, is one. The school, built of stone tile with a stucco finish, fell into disrepair in the 1990s but was redeveloped by the Macon Housing Authority.
And Dover Development Corp. is proposing renovating the former Alexander IV Elementary School into senior housing. The $8.8 million project at 3769 Ridge Ave. would feature 60 units.