In the late 1800s Detroit’s original schoolhouses became overcrowded and in the 1900s a new school district system oversaw the construction of dozens of new, modest-sized (by today’s standards) elementary schools in residential neighborhoods.
There are now two major successful developments of this category in Detroit. One of the historic school buildings is now known as the Leland Lofts, built in 1918, and originally named the Nellie Leland School. Located at 1395 Antietam, it’s at the gateway between Eastern Market and Lafayette Park. The Leland Lofts is a tribute to its imaginative and quirky developer, the late Joel Landy. This was a pioneer project, the 1st of its kind in the city. In 2005 it was launched to an untested market that luckily, fell head over heels in love with the concept. These condos come up for re-sale periodically, and their value has stayed strong.
Another example is the Saint Charles Residences, in the Islandview neighborhood. It is a stunning conversion of a 100 year old school, originally associated with the adjacent St. Charles church. The historic building contains 25 unique residential units, and multiple additional new construction phases are being built around it. The high quality, modern residences, feature tall ceilings, mezzanines, terrazzo floors, and lovely wide corridors and lounges.
What’s next for school conversions in Detroit?
There are some great options for developers thinking of a residential development, and we predict that in the not too distant future, buyers and tenants will be able to pick and choose between several quality school conversion condo projects.
The Hillger School in Pingree Park is available for sale now and ready for development. It could fulfill a need for new housing options, within reach of the first time homebuyer and with access to the attractions of Kercheval, West Village, and the Greater Villages.
St. Casimir is another school ripe for re-development, in North Corktown. St. Casimir was featured in French magazine Le Point as an illustration of the new wave of development in Detroit.
These are examples of school buildings that lay in emerging, up and coming neighborhoods. And now that the concept has been proven successful by previously completed Detroit projects, both buyers and builders can take advantage of opportunities to get in on the ground floor.
Why are historic school conversions ideal in the Post COVID-19 era?
A school has typically large floorplans created by sturdy, thick existing walls separating original classrooms and lounges from one another. Spacious residential layouts are compatible with the existing building structures. In the post COVID-19 world, buyers prefer larger spaces, to house all their various lifestyle activities under one roof and maximize privacy & distancing. A rehabbed school can also give buyers the opportunity to buy a “raw” condo, in a relatively short time frame, at the white box stage, where they can build out their custom design over time, according to their budget.
One of the most exciting features of every school to condo conversion is the uniqueness of the spaces, and features. You cannot just erase the history from these renovations. There are niches, alcoves, libraries, lockers and gymnasiums with floorplans that lend themselves to fascinating living spaces. In the 1920s, carved wood trim and solid wood doors, Pewabic-tiled fireplaces, and terrazzo floors were popular.
The school building conversion is just the perfect size for a small- to medium-sized residential project, typically on three stories, with beautiful architectural details, in some of the older Detroit neighborhoods that are well poised to make a comeback. At Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Loft Warehouse, we look forward to sharing our new favorites in this category, as the details emerge.