After sitting empty for more than 20 years, the old Douglass High School has reopened its doors as affordable housing in Oklahoma City.
The historic building, now known as The Douglass, has been converted into 60 apartments by SCG Development and Colony Partners. The joint-venture partners have also constructed The Douglass Next Door, a new building that provides an additional 68 affordable apartments.
The developments, which feature a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units, help meet the housing needs of families earning no more than 60% of the area median income. Colony Partners is also working on a nearby market-rate housing development.
The work is a big step in the redevelopment of the John F. Kennedy neighborhood of northeast Oklahoma City.
The school, later known Page Woodson School, is central to the project, bringing a rich history that dates back to the early 1900s. The former all-white Lowell School was expanded and transformed into a home for the all-black Douglass High School, according to officials.
The building allowed for unique loft-like units with high ceilings and large windows, says Stephen P. Wilson, president of SCG Development, noting that the team worked hard to preserve some of the school’s features, including chalkboards that remain in some of the apartments. One unit even has an old fireplace that’s believed to have been part of a teachers’ lounge.
To finance the approximately $32 million housing developments, the team used two powerful financial tools—low-income housing and historic tax credits. Tax-exempt bonds were also part of the financing package, according to Wilson.
The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) awarded $1.5 million in 4% housing credits and $21 million in multifamily bonds. Stratford Capital Group, SCG’s sister company, then syndicated the credits to raise equity for the project. Oklahoma City, Wells Fargo, Freddie Mac, and Arvest Bank provided additional financing.
“Schoolhouses have long served as the cornerstones of neighborhoods,” says Dennis Shockley, OHFA executive director. “The revitalization of Page Woodson will not only bring unique apartment living to Oklahoma City’s northeast side, but also is a unique historic renovation that will reverberate throughout the community and beyond.”
In addition to delivering new housing opportunities for city residents, the redevelopment of the school restores a large auditorium that seats several hundred people. “We hope it re-energizes and reignites the area,” Wilson says.
The art deco auditorium is being leased to Progress OKC, a community development corporation that will program it with different performances and other events.