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Miller schools rehab underway, Hunt project to begin soon

A roofing crew puts shingles on the house under construction on the corner at A.L. Miller School on Montpelier Avenue in January.
A roofing crew puts shingles on the house under construction on the corner at A.L. Miller School on Montpelier Avenue in January. wmarshall@macon.com

Two former school buildings in Macon are being given new life and new purposes.

While work is about to start on one of the school renovations, the other school project is well underway despite a fire last year that could have hindered progress.

The former A.L. Miller High School and A.L. Miller Junior High School at 2241 Montpelier Ave. are being converted into a multi-family development with 62 apartments for low-income residents. The land where a gym burned this past summer is becoming a park, and nine single-family dwellings are being built on the 11.27-acre tract that's been named A.L. Miller Village.

The apartments are "90 percent framed, and we're now doing the plumbing and electrical," said project manager Jim Huffstetler with Louisville, Kentucky-based Renzo Construction LLC. "Sometime this summer I'm sure we will have units ready to move in."

The Miller schools were designed and built in two eras between 1929-1930 and 1949-1950, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The schools have not been used since 1999.

Last August's fire nearly destroyed the junior high school gym and a cafeteria in the complex. The blaze, which was later ruled arson, didn't slow down the project.

"I started out with a plan and a schedule, and I'm beating the schedule with a different plan," Huffstetler said.

Three walls of the burned gym will be brought down to a height of about 10 feet, and they will surround the park.

The walls are being salvaged "to retain the history," he said.

A new roof will be put on a second older gym, the windows will be fixed, and "then we're closing it up," Huffstetler said. He wasn't sure why it wasn't being developed now, but "I think it comes down to the feasibility of the project."

The apartments will have one, two and three-bedroom options with amenities to include a playground, gazebo and a covered pavilion with grills and picnic tables. The size of the apartments will be 600 to 1,100 square feet.

Two of the single-family houses have been framed, and framing will begin on the third house this week, Huffstetler said. The two-story structures built mostly of brick will feature three bedrooms and two baths with a front porch. Those homes will be about 1,400 square feet.

All the residences will be EarthCraft certified, which meets certain green building requirements, similar to LEED certified construction for commercial buildings, he said. The average energy cost for an EarthCraft home is typically 28 percent lower.

"I think it's going along pretty well," he said. "I'm pleased with our progress. Weather hasn't really cooperated ... so I'm running a little behind on the houses, but I'm about to catch up.

HUNT SCHOOL PROJECT HITS A SNAG

Although early plans for the rehabilitation of the former Henry A. Hunt Elementary School at 909 Shurling Drive called for construction to begin last fall, some unforeseen issues caused a delay.

In April 2015, Bruce Gerwig, head of the Macon Housing Authority's nonprofit development arm In-Fill Housing Inc., told The Telegraph he expected contractors would bid on the project and that construction should have started near Labor Day.

That didn't happen for the project that includes plans to create 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments with appliances furnished. It will include community space, a fitness center and computer room. The development, called Hunt School Village, will be for low-income people who are 62 or older.

"We hit some snags, honestly," Gerwig said last week. "This took a lot longer than we thought. The biggest was financing. When we opened the bids in June, bids were a lot higher than we had expected, and we had to attack that from all sides."

For example, the site plan was reworked, and the Macon-Bibb County government helped with closing the gap with an allocation last summer of $1 million in additional funding. The Hunt development was promised a $450,000 loan from federal Community Development Block Grant funds paid out over two fiscal years that would be repaid over 20 years. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs promised other funding.

But all of that money "triggers a great deal of federal and state oversight and approvals," Gerwig said. The last three months of last year were devoted to getting all those approvals.

One change in plans involves demolishing former classrooms, he said.

"We were intending to leave those and convert those to apartment units," he said. "It's actually cheaper to demolish them and build new construction. ... We are still ending up with the same number of units. The quality of the product won't be affected in the least."

"The good news is we are just about ready to start, I mean literally any day," he said. "The last (approval) came in the first week of January, so we're on the 1-yard line."

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223, or follow her on Twitter @MidGaBiz.

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