A 106-year-old school building has been adapted into affordable housing for seniors in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
Arch Communities and WinnCompanies announced the completion of The Residences at Wells School. Of the property’s 62 apartments, 56 provide affordable housing at rents set at 60% of the area median income (AMI), including eight apartments reserved for residents at or below 30% of the AMI. Six apartments have been customized for handicapped and sensory-impaired households.
“I have long been a champion of the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) and the historic tax credit— two important tools that were utilized here in Southbridge,” said Rep. Richard E. Neal, chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “The successes of these incentives should serve as a model for developing tax tools designed to provide a direct benefit to the communities that are often left behind. When we help communities provide housing, we help community members thrive.”
The three-story, 90,000-square-foot building served as a school for a century but had been vacant for eight years before construction began in 2020. It was built in 1916 as Southbridge’s first public high school and was converted to a junior high school in the 1960s.
The school was named for Mary E. Wells, the wife of the co-founder of the American Optical Co., an eyewear manufacturer that was once the region’s largest employer. Wells became the first woman elected to public office in Southbridge when voters chose her to serve on the town’s Board of Education in the 1890s.
Adaptive-reuse techniques preserved the historic features of the building, which was designed by Peabody & Stearns, one of the premier architectural firms in the eastern United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is among the nearly four dozen historic adaptive-reuse projects that WinnDevelopment has completed in five states and the District of Columbia.
“As a developer, there’s nothing more fulfilling than restoring a historic landmark and returning it to service for a good case,” said WinnDevelopment executive vice president Adam Stein. “Everywhere we work, we find situations where seniors cannot afford to stay in their community. This effort is a small step toward addressing a much larger need.”
The new $25.7 million community features significant amenities, including an internal courtyard resident lounge, a craft room, a media screening room, a fitness and yoga center, a library, an Amazon package locker, on-site storage units, and an on-site management office. WinnResidential, the property management arm of WinnCompanies, operates the property. Tri-Valley Elder Services provides supportive services programming for residents.
The project utilized both federal and state historic credits, along with federal and state LIHTCs. Bank of America is the sole investor in the project, purchasing the different credits. Bank of America also provided construction financing.
The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development provided the federal and state LIHTCs, while the U.S. National Park Service and Massachusetts Historical Commission provide the federal and state historic credits. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership, the Community Economic Development Assistance Corp., and BlueHub Capital also provided financing.
The project has been designed to achieve the Enterprise Green Communities. Keith Construction served as the general contractor and The Architectural Team served as the architect.
WinnDevelopment is working on another project in Southbridge. Construction is underway to transform a portion of a late 19th century mill building at Southbridge Mills into 48 units of affordable housing. Located within the 150-acre Southbridge Innovation Center, the $23 million project will convert an existing 70,000-square-foot multistory mill building into 48 apartments, with 43 available to households with incomes at or below 60% of the AMI and five available to households earning below 30% of the AMI.