A housing project that has faced its share of problems getting started was celebrated Tuesday as an important development in east Macon.
Various housing and construction officials joined Macon-Bibb County leaders on a sunny day to recognize the construction taking place at the former Henry A. Hunt Elementary School that will become the site of a senior apartment village. Crews begin demolishing two of the former buildings in February, and now work has started on turning the remaining building that once housed the school's auditorium and cafeteria into a community building for residents.
The construction is being led by Stafford Builders & Consultants. The complex at 900 Shurling Drive should be completed by February 2017, said Shawn Stafford, president and founder of Stafford Builders.
"The train has already left the station, and our next stop will be affordable senior housing in this community," he said during Tuesday's groundbreaking.
Once completed, two new buildings will both have 30 apartments, and the community building will feature a computer room and fitness center. The 36 one-bedroom and 24 two-bedroom apartments will be income based for people 62 years and older. The complex was designed by BTBB inc. Architects/Planners.
Getting the project ready for a groundbreaking took more effort than expected, in part because it faced severe budget constraints last June, said Bruce Gerwig, president and CEO of the Macon Housing Authority's nonprofit arm, In-Fill Housing Inc., the developer behind the Hunt development.
To combat that, a revised site plan was developed, and the project received a $450,000 loan from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, he said.
"Macon-Bibb County (also) dug real deep with an additional $1 million (of funds)," Gerwig said.
In the fall of 2015, officials worked through getting various approvals from agencies involved with historic preservation as well as HUD and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The overall $11.3 million project also has received about $9 million in private investment.
"These changes and approvals took a lot of time," Gerwig said.
Gerwig said he thinks the buildings had been vacant since 2003. Before construction began, there was a blackboard in one of the classrooms with "2003" written on it.
"When we took over, there were classroom materials all over," he said. "It was almost like people had school one day and left out."
Having dilapidated structures become modern homes will be an asset to east Macon, Mayor Robert Reichert said.
"I think it will be a blessing to be this close in town and have this many amenities nearby," he said.
County Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who taught at the school during part of the 1990s and represents the district where it's located, said the neighborhood around the Hunt School also will get some revitalization through blight funds.
"This (Hunt) project will spur something in this district -- the kinds of things we need all over this district and county," she said.
Information from The Telegraph's archives was used in this report. To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter@stan_telegraph.