Politics & Government

Renovated Miller school to open as apartments by fall 2016

Detailed plans are coming for turning the former A.L. Miller High School into apartments, and construction work should start by September at the latest.

But if paperwork with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs continues moving swiftly, renovation of the building complex could actually begin in August or even July, said Chris Byrd of Oracle Consulting Services.

“We have a May 1 deadline to get them final, final drawings,” said Byrd, development associate for the Louisville, Kentucky-based company.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs must sign off on the project’s compliance with historic preservation and energy efficiency standards.

“At that point we move into a closing with our investors,” Byrd said. “It’s on schedule, and everything is going well.”

The school, which opened in 1932 as a high school for girls, had been empty for several years when Oracle took an interest. The company discovered the Montpelier Avenue property when the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation placed Miller on its 2008 “Places in Peril” list, said Oracle’s Mark Wright.

By 2012, vandalism and pests had become problems at the boarded-up school, the Georgia Trust found.

“The dropped ceiling tiles and frames are broken and collapsed, but the building is structurally sound,” the Georgia Trust’s report said.

Oracle applied for and, in November 2014, was awarded $1 million in tax credits to turn the three buildings on the site into 62 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and to build nine single-family homes along the 11.27-acre site’s Birch Street side. Altogether the project is expected to require a $12 million to $14 million investment.

Completion is expected to take 12 to 14 months, so units should be ready for leasing by fall 2016, Byrd said.

The new apartments are intended to house people who make 60 percent or less of the local median household income. Byrd calls it “workforce housing,” which aims to serve people who work but hold low-wage jobs. The approved tax credits are specifically intended to create affordable housing for working families, seniors and the disabled.

As part of the application for tax credits, Macon-Bibb County government committed $650,000 to the project. That resolution, which cleared the city-county commission in May 2014, requires that money be spent, or at least that value in in-kind services be performed, within two years of the tax credits’ November 2014 approval.

But the Macon-Bibb money won’t go to the Miller property directly. Instead, Oracle asked for that amount in improvements to the area within a half-mile radius.

“Please be reminded that our commitment to the project is $650,000 of in-kind services which will include, but is not limited to, property purchase, demolition, community development, rehabilitation, restoration, administrative services, etc.,” Assistant County Manager Charles Coney said in an emailed statement to The Telegraph. “The plan for the work is not developed at this writing, but will be developed in concert with the Blight Task Force and the developers. No contact has been made with the developers as yet.”

Macon-Bibb is planning to have $10 million in bond funds by the end of May designated to fight urban blight. Some of the funding needed for work around Miller will come from the blight bonds, Coney said.

Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore has said much of the in-kind work could be done through the existing Five by Five neighborhood cleanup program, which focuses work on streets, lighting and other infrastructure for five weeks in a five-block area.

The property is still officially owned by the Bibb County Board of Education but was to be sold to Oracle by the end of 2014. That agreement had an extension clause until the end of June 2015, but in February the school board amended the sale documents to extend that again until Aug. 31, 2015, Coney said.

A three-day design meeting with EarthCraft Communities, a sustainable design firm, was held a week or so ago, Byrd said. It was open to the public, and people who live in the surrounding area were notified, he said. About 20 households showed up, and representatives of involved local agencies were invited.

So far the only change to initial plans is that historic preservation standards won’t allow demolition of the smaller of the school’s two gymnasiums, he said. Oracle isn’t sure what will be done with it, but it must be kept, Byrd said. The larger gym is expected to become community space.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.