Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Work Starting Soon on McKinley School Redevelopment

$1.1 million environmental cleanup comes first for fire-damaged school.

By - Aug 20th, 2020 04:36 pm
William McKinley School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

William McKinley School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The proposal to redevelop the fire-damaged William McKinley School, 2001 W. Vliet St., in the city’s Midtown neighborhood is moving forward.

The project centers on redeveloping the school, completed in 1885, into 35 affordable apartments for families of deployed military personnel. Four market-rate, three-bedroom homes would be built along W. Vliet St.

Environmental remediation work is scheduled to begin in October, with construction in December. The $12.6 million development would be completed in December 2021.

Gorman & Co., the project developer, secured historic preservation tax credits in 2018 and low-income housing tax credits in April 2020. On Thursday the project received initial approval for a $950,000 tax incremental financing district from the board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee.

“A bit more than two-thirds of that is going into environmental remediation and interior demolition,” said Department of City Development (DCD) redevelopment and special projects manager Maria Prioletta. The building requires substantial asbestos and lead-based paint abatement. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also providing $450,000 towards the $1.1 million environmental abatement, which includes airborne asbestos and lead paint.

The EPA previously gave the city $425,000 to address environmental issues including abandoned containers, mercury, hazardous incinerator ash, friable asbestos and contaminated sump water in the building.

Individuals touring the building must wear head-to-toe personal protective equipment because of the building’s condition.

“The Department of Neighborhood Services had actually said this was the worst building they had ever seen,” said DCD real estate services manager Amy Turim in 2018.

It’s not a unique opinion. “I would say this building is probably the worst building we have tackled in terms of its condition,” said Gorman’s Ted Matkom on Thursday. The affordable housing development firm has redeveloped two other schools in Milwaukee and a host of other projects.

“The timing of this project is probably at the 11th hour of this building’s life,” said Matkom. “If it were to go through another winter it likely wouldn’t make it.”

The low-income housing tax credits have a per-unit cost maximum that the environmental work and construction combined would exceed. As a workaround the city will perform the cleanup work, then turn the property over to Gorman. “That allows us to stay within those cost caps,” said Matkom.

The credits will require that units be set aside at fixed prices with priority to military families. “If someone is deployed overseas or another part of the country, the family gets to live here,” said Matkom. “There is a big demand for this that really goes unmet because it flies under the radar.”

Dry Hootch brought the military housing idea to Gorman and will have an office to provide support services to families, as will Lutheran Social Services.

Twenty-one of the units will be set aside for individuals making less than 50 percent of the area median income. Fourteen of the units will be set aside for those making less than 80 percent of the area median income.

Matkom said he expects it to take three years to be all military families. Others that qualify will be approved if no eligible military families have applied.

The four-single family homes are a deviation from the 2018 plan that had eight units in four buildings. The new design is a much more traditional architectural style. “Alderman [Robert Bauman] has been very staunch that single-family homes along Vliet balance this project out between home ownership and apartments,” said Matkom.

The homes would be sold at market prices. Matkom said they would contain three bedrooms each with between 1,600 to 1,800 square feet of living space. A detached garage would be included along a new alley with the house sited on a “bigger than normal” lot.

Assessments for the homes are expected to range between $140,000 and $180,000. The apartments, which are assessed based on rental income, have an estimated assessment of $1,685,000.

The remaining $300,000 in city funds would pay for site work on the project associated with the homes.

The $950,000 in city funds, which still requires Common Council approval, would be borrowed and paid back through incremental property tax revenue on the development. A third-party analysis projects the debt would be paid off in 2043.

Unlike many of the other recently developed schools, which became available in the past decade as MPS enrollment declined in the wake of the growing voucher school system, McKinley was closed by MPS in the 1970s. The district sold the building to the VE Carter Child Development Corporation in 1991 — the company leased the facility starting in the 1980s. Carter operated a school in the building until 2009 and a day care until 2013 when a fire heavily damaged the structure. The city gained control of the building in 2016 via property tax foreclosure, which was the second time since 2010 that the city foreclosed on the building.

A city-owned lot located immediately south of the school could be redeveloped into a future MKE Plays park, Prioletta said.

Photos and Site Plan

Interior Photos

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