Over the next two years, the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation is aiming to create affordable senior housing at the site of the former John Grace school.
SOUTHFIELD — The city of Southfield and the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation are hoping to get moving on plans for the former John Grace school this year.
At the end of last year, the Southfield City Council approved a request from the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation for a 24-month option on the former school, 21030 Indian St., for $1 to develop affordable senior residential housing.
The plan is to convert the former school into 65 units for seniors, a $17 million investment representing “an adaptive reuse” of the building, city documents state. The building would be repurposed into 20 apartments with two community spaces — the gymnasium and the former library — and the additional 45 units would be attached directly to the south of the school.
Mayor Kenson Siver said the two-year option is for the housing corporation to get its financing in order, as it’s dependent on getting Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The organization is submitting an application to get the credits by April 1, but it won’t hear back until July.
“It could take months, but we had to get a guarantee from the City Council that they were willing to consider this transfer, because otherwise, you’re not going to spend any more money on architects, engineers, filing for rezoning, all the things that go into developing affordable senior housing,” he said. “Without the building, you have nothing.”
Built in 1921, the school has been vacant since 2017. Although the building is described as structurally sound, the city has found it to have many environmental contaminants, and it needs renovations, including a new roof, electrical work, and plumbing and ventilation system improvements. The building also has issues such as lead, asbestos and other environmental contaminants.
Siver, who also is the board president for the Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation, called the building “obsolete,” but while Southfield could tear the school down for an estimated $700,000, all it would have left, he said, would be a vacant property that it couldn’t sell for how much it cost to tear down.
“There’s a tremendous history behind this building,” he said. “We’re all about adaptive reuse, honoring the history. It was built for one purpose. Times have changed; we find another use. And we know in Southfield that we need more affordable senior housing.”
The Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation operates McDonnell Towers, the River Park Place townhomes and apartments, and the Woodridge Apartments. According to Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation board member Bonnie Krosse, all buildings are full and have wait lists, because there still is a high demand.
“The (housing corporation) is involved in a number of senior facilities, and they all have wait lists,” she said. “You know, there’s a need. I think the figure that Ken had mentioned to me was like 40% of our residents are 60-plus. So with wait lists for people and just limited resources right now, it would be a tremendous asset (to have another building).”
Krosse said getting the funding and converting the school would be wonderful, as the building is beautiful and she would hate to see it torn down. She said the board is optimistic they’ll get the funding.
“It’s a wonderful old building,” she said. “It would be a gift to the community. It would be a gift for seniors to have more flexibility and opportunities, and it would just be such a shame to see it destroyed.”