PROVO, UTAH - . The Provo City Housing
Authority not only saved a historic school from being razed, but
also used the property as a catalyst for neighborhood rejuvenation.
The housing authority renovated an 1898 building to create the
Maeser School Apartments, 31 units affordable to very low income
seniors, and then subdivided the surrounding grounds to help bring
homeowners back to the block.
Before it closed in 2002, the Maeser School was the oldest
operating public school in Utah. It is a significant example of
civic architecture with applied Romanesque ornament, a style that
was popular in Utah from 1880 to 1890 but of which few examples
“The school district tried to sell the property to the
private sector, but there were no takers,” said Douglas
Carlson, executive director of the Provo City Housing Authority.
“They were on the verge of tearing the school down—two
weeks away from the wrecking ball—when we agreed to purchase
the building and the entire city block at their asking
Although that $750,000 price now seems low, Carlson said,
“There was so much work that needed to be done to convert the
building that it had an appraised value of next to nothing. The
per-unit cost for restoration was in the neighborhood of $160,000,
which is a lot of money, and our objective was to put very low
income seniors in the building.”
To fund the massive restoration and keep future rents low, the
developer tapped 14 major funding sources. These included $2.5
million in proceeds from 9 percent state and federal LIHTCs; $1.2
million in proceeds from federal and state historic preservation
tax credits; $500,000 in city Community Development Block Grant and
HOME loans; a $290,000 permanent loan from Utah CDBG; a $300,000
Utah State Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund loan; a $223,968 grant
from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle’s Affordable
Housing Program; and a $50,000 grant from HGTV’s Restore
America program. American Express Utah Equity Fund and Washington
Mutual Bank served as investors for all the tax credits.
The greatest design challenge involved converting the
school’s attic into housing. “We put eight units of
housing up there and had to bring natural light to those units.
This meant we had to put some dormers and skylights in, which was a
very delicate negotiation with the Department of the
Interior,” Carlson said.
The housing authority restored many architectural
features—including bricked-over windows, 12-foot ceilings,
and decorative hallway arches that had been hidden by decades of
remodeling—to their original condition. It also recreated
period colors and patterns for the interior paint and carpeting,
and purchased Victorian furniture for the common areas.
Completed in November 2006 and fully leased up within a month,
the development offers 25 one-bedroom and six studio
However, the housing authority’s restoration work
didn’t end there. It set its sights on reviving the historic
neighborhood itself, subdividing the school grounds into 12 lots,
which were sold to the Rural Housing Development Corp. for
development under its mutual self-help housing program.
“The city is working very hard to rejuvenate the
neighborhood and bring families back into the older homes, many of
which were converted into rentals,” Carlson said. “So
we are trying to do our part to re-establish it as a viable,
attractive, residential neighborhood.”
Additional project information, as
provided in application by the nominator.
Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be
recognized based on the award criteria of this
A. The Provo City Housing Authority (PCHA)
initiated a major historic preservation and neighborhood
revitalization initiative in the Maeser Neighborhood through its
purchase of the historic Maeser Elementary School, located in the
heart of Provo, Utah. With this initiative, the PCHA has
successfully preserved a very significant and prominent historical
landmark in Provo, and adaptively reused the building to provide
the community with needed affordable housing for the elderly. By
facilitating 12 new homeownership opportunities on the block, the
Authority has also helped to revitalize a distressed central city
There are two major elements of the Maeser Block Redevelopment:
the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the Maeser Elementary
School to 31 affordable one-bedroom and studio apartments for
seniors; and the 12-lot single-family home subdivision of the
surrounding grounds. The PCHA facilitated and sold to the Rural
Housing Development Corporation for development under their mutual
self-help housing program.
Q. How does this project represent an innovative
solution to a specific development challenge?
A. One design challenge the PCHA faced was
utilizing the space in the building—including attic
space—into the 31 apartment units necessary for a
cost-effective projects, while at the same time preserving the
historic qualities of the building. Three skylights and three
dormer winders were installed on the west and north roofs to
provide natural light for third-floor attic-conversion apartments.
This conversion was done in compliance with the Secretary of the
Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic
Properties, and in accordance with state and local historic
A unique solution to funding challenges of the project was the
utilization of 13 major funding sources. One of the components was
the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle’s Affordable Housing
Program Grant. This grant not only gave the Maeser School
Apartments $223,968 toward rehabilitation of the building, but also
funded other central Provo housing programs. The PCHA was the
organizer and founding member of a coalition of organizations with
common Provo redevelopment goals that also received funding from