School to be converted to senior residences

The Immaculate Conception Catholic School at 200 Coming St. is currently being converted into 63 affordable senior apartments. Work on the new Radcliffe Manor senior housing complex is underway by Fairway Construction, a company based in Columbia, Mo.

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Built by the Catholic diocese for African American students in 1930, Immaculate Conception merged with Bishop England High School during desegregation in 1968. Between 1968 and 1973, Bishop England used it as the freshman building, but by 1974, it had switched hands again. For a time, the state of South Carolina owned it and used it as a parole office as well as space for miscellaneous state agencies, before abandoning it after Hurricane Hugo. Because of its classroom size and solid brick masonry, it has been considered for affordable housing since 2000.

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“Our contractors love retrofitting from a construction standpoint, because it’s all under roof when they get started,” says Kim Olden, vice president of Fairway Management. “They’re just doing demo work and rehabbing. With new construction, it’s all coming out of the ground, and it’s fraught with weather issues. The challenges are all for the management company, because with historic buildings, you don’t know what you’re going to face until you get in there.”

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In order to qualify for rehabilitation credits, Fairway’s building projects have to be on the City of Charleston Historic Register. The company typically preserves the whole façade, and depending on local regulations for historic buildings, old windows are generally replaced with energy efficient ones. At Immaculate Conception, the windows are being restored and the 11-foot ceilings and open spaces will be preserved.

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In some projects, such as an old schoolhouse Fairway just completed in Missouri, they are required to leave many of the old chalkboards and lockers. “It’s interesting, because you can weave that into the design,” says Olden. “The chalkboards have been handy for posting reminders for elderly folks.”

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Whitney Powers, president and principal architect of Studio A, designed this and other local senior housing projects. She says that although retrofitting the building for power and services was difficult, the actual shell is in great condition.

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The project is actually two buildings. The schoolhouse is being rehabilitated to preserve the structure and will be converted into 21 apartments. The gym, dating from the 1950s, has been demolished to make room for a new building of 42 additional units. “The units essentially follow the arrangement of the classrooms,” says Powers. “It’s natural for there to be the same number of housing units.”

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The redesign is a series of two-bedroom apartments, about 800 square feet on average.

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Each building has mail facilities, as well as laundry machines on each floor. Adjoining the new construction, there will be a community building with communal space and a residential kitchen for group dinners and functions. The leasing office is located there as well.

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For Radcliffe Manor, lease rates will be between $476 and $573 per month. Residents must be 62 years of age or older and fit the income restrictions based on the area’s median income.

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“The strength we bring to the project is that we understand how to syndicate the tax credits,” explains Olden. “We bring the equity, and we have experience in getting affordable rents for residents.”

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Fairway’s umbrella company is Jeffrey E. Smith Companies, which has more than 16 years of experience in the marketplace of affordable housing. “We have done well over 100 developments and Jeff has over 4,000 units in his own portfolio, multi-family as well as senior housing,” says Olden. “What is unique is that we are using tax credits to do the equity portion, because it involves a historic building as well as new construction.”

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Another division within the company is Affordable Equity Partners. By using both state and federal tax credit programs, AEP has helped developers build high-quality, low-income housing and senior living facilities.

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The total development cost will be roughly $9 million for both buildings. Annually, the project will have about $600,000 in low-income tax credits, which amount to about $6 million total over 10 years.

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Radcliffe Manor has been in the works for nearly three years. When the original developer couldn’t bring the deal to fruition, JES stepped in and purchased the property and became the syndicator of the tax credits. Fairway Construction will finish the construction, and Fairway Management will manage the property.

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“At the time the building was purchased and looked at for affordable housing, a lot of things in the neighborhood were not off the ground,” says Powers. “It was seen as opportunity to provide affordable housing in a neighborhood clearly in transition. The thing that made this a high priority project for us is that it fulfills a need that is quickly disappearing in downtown Charleston. And because the residents are seniors, it has relatively low impact on the neighborhood.”

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The rehabilitated school building will be ready for occupancy by October, and the new construction should be finished by the first part of January.

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Sarah G. McC. Moïse covers residential real estate for the Business Journal. E-mail her at smoise@crbj.com.

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