Long-Awaited McKinley School Redevelopment Moving Forward
Environmental remediation work is underway on fire-damaged school
The windows are boarded up on the former William McKinley School, 2001 W. Vliet St., and that’s a good thing.
The condition of the former school has been described as the worst ever seen and the quintessential definition of blight by a series of city officials involved in moving a $12.6 million redevelopment of the property forward.
Also, the building has architectural merit. The city designated it a historic structure in 2014, a year after a fire damaged the interior and released asbestos and other contaminants into the air.
And the structure has deteriorated since then. “Things were bad then at the time of designation, but not like they are now,” said Historic Preservation Commission staff member Carlen Hatala in February.
The school was built in phases, starting in 1885. By the 1970’s Milwaukee Public Schools closed it down. VE Carter Child Development Corporation then stepped in to lease and ultimately purchase the property, operating a school in the building until 2009 and a daycare until 2013, when the fire struck.
The city took back ownership of the building in 2016, the second time it had foreclosed on the property for unpaid taxes in the past six years.
Gorman secured historic preservation tax credits in 2018 and low-income housing tax credits in April 2020. Both will provide critical capital to advance the redevelopment.
The city added a $950,000 tax incremental financing district in September to offset the high cost of environmental abatement and subsidize the four homes.
Approximately $300,000 will go to Gorman to subsidize the houses, which are being built at the request of area Alderman Robert Bauman. The school is otherwise set far back from the street. The remaining funds will support the city hiring contractors for an environmental cleanup of the site. The city anticipates reclaiming the costs through new property tax revenue collected by the end of 2043.
“I would say this building is probably the worst building we have tackled in terms of its condition,” said Gorman’s Ted Matkom in August. His firm has redeveloped a number of former schools and city-owned homes.
But this project is complex. The city, not Gorman, must complete the cleanup in order to keep the environmental remediation costs below those permitted in the low-income housing tax credit program.
The EPA, through multiple grants, will have invested $875,000 in remediating the building, including properly disposing of abandoned containers, mercury, hazardous incinerator ash, friable asbestos and contaminated sump water. The city will have put in a similar amount when all is completed.
Gorman will then finish the redevelopment, including installing aluminum-frame replica windows and painting the brick a cream color. As is standard in such redevelopment, each classroom will become roughly one apartment. A mix of layouts will yield two- and three-bedroom floor plans. The National Parks Service, through the use of historic preservation tax credits, must sign off on all building plans, ensuring a historically-sensitive redevelopment.
The housing credits will require that units be set aside at fixed prices with priority given 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.
Twenty-one of the units will be set aside for individuals making less than 50 percent of the area median income, and another fourteen will be set aside for those making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
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.
A file is pending before the council to add another piece to the development. To the south of the school, where W. McKinley Ave. should go through, lies a city-owned tot lot, an otherwise vacant parcel with playground equipment. A proposal pending before the city would rezone that parcel, 1255 N. 20th St., to be part of the school property.
Quorum Architects is serving as the project architect on the development.
Earlier Interior Photos
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