An historic building that served the Elkins community for nearly 70 years as a school is sporting a bright, shiny new roof and a total renovation, ready to begin its new life as an apartment building for area seniors.
The First Ward School Apartments were dedicated Tuesday with a reception and tours, as many community members and elected officials - including Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito - got their first peek at the newly repurposed building.
"This revival gives our seniors a place to live and enjoy the community where they live," Capito, R-W.Va., said. "When their homes become too much for them, and they cannot get around, it can make it difficult for them to stay in their homes.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., speaks during the First Ward School Apartments opening on Tuesday. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart)
"Family can come here and visit," Capito said. "There is a vision in this county and region to make sure there is access to affordable housing."
Organizers said the project will be a major positive for the community.
"The $3.7 million dollar renovation brought the First Ward School building back to its former self," Karen Jacobson, president of Highland Community Builders, said. "The building will now offer eight one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom apartments ranging from 682 to 1,600 square feet."
C-HOPE originally purchased the old First Ward School building from the Randolph County Board of Education for $1, and then conducted feasibility analysis and received a grant to fix its roof.
C-HOPE, the Randolph County Housing Authority and AU Associates worked together to repurpose the building. AU Associates specialize in adaptive reuse of buildings.
Logan Smith, a C-HOPE member, shared his memories of attending First Ward School.
"Thousands of students have passed through this school," Smith said. "I remember being in Mrs. Sturdivant's class over there and learning to tie my shoes right there. There were cakewalks and carnivals and a lot of fine memories. This building is a symbol to hold on to our past as we reach for our future."
The First Ward School Apartments rental units will be managed by the Randolph County Housing Authority, while the building is owned by Highland Community Builders.
Funding for the renovations was provided by C-HOPE, Huntington Bank, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corp., The West Virginia Housing Development Fund and the Wet Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Terry George, superintendent of Randolph County schools, said he was pleased with the apartments, and the part that his office played in the repurposing of the building.
"We were approached by Spinner O'Flaherty and asked if we would consider turning the old First Ward School over to (C-HOPE)," George said. "The group took ownership of the building and the rest is here for you to see today."
George said the groups did a great job with the restoration.
"The wood trim is wonderful," George said. "The architecture is the same as the original building with original lights, refurbished floors and high ceilings. It has made a large transformation since I was last in the building in 2009."
Randolph BOE president Lisa Wamsley agreed with George.
"They took an eyesore and turned it into something beautiful that will help others," Wamsley said. "The community should be proud of the First Ward School Apartments. I like how they kept the integrity of the building with the high ceilings and woodwork. The building is now functional with a purpose."
Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor also praised the renovation.
"It is wonderful that the community could come together to preserve the First Ward School building," Taylor said. "It is a great benefit to our community and shows that when so many come together, great things can be accomplished."
"The First Ward School Apartments project has a little bit of everything I love about Elkins," Elkins Mayor Van Broughton said. "There is evidence of great teamwork from people of all segments of our community pulling together to make something we can all be proud of. There is history with an important part of the city's legacy being protected and preserved for future generations. And, there is creativity - people had the vision to turn a run-down old shell into a beautiful new building.
"I really congratulate all the people involved and I hope we can do more projects like this one in the future."
First Ward School, located in south Elkins on South Davis Avenue, was originally built in 1907 and served as a school until 1976, when it was converted into a textbook warehouse for the county schools.
The first floor of the First Ward School Apartments has a large hallway, laundry room and community gathering area.
Residents living in First Ward School Apartments will be part of a wellness collaboration. The Randolph County Housing Authority, Davis Health System, the Elkins Randolph County Senior Center and the Elkins Randolph Health Department will partner to provide a coordinated health and wellness program for the seniors.
Additional information about First Ward School Apartments is available by calling Marilyn Moore at 304-591-4562 or Linda Koch at 304-636-6495 ext. 18.