Renovating a school and revitalizing a community

Mar 20, 2016

Thanks to a recent renovation, a historic elementary school in Baltimore, Md., is now serving the community in a new way – providing affordable housing to those who make 50 percent or less of the city’s median income.

Columbus School was constructed in 1891 and expanded in 1905 and 1912 before closing in the 1970s. It was subsequently used as apartments during most of the 1980s, but then lay vacant for about 10 years before a private national developer of subsidized housing – the Woda Group – approached the city about converting it into workforce housing.

The Woda Group owns and manages more than 6,000 residential units in 11 Midwestern, Northeastern and Southern states, and moved into Baltimore seven years ago. Together with the nonprofit Housing Services Alliance, Woda is working to revitalize the Baltimore’s North Avenue corridor, while also offering more housing opportunities to low-income residents. Woda’s projects in Baltimore include the Penn Square apartments (Phase I and II) on Pennsylvania Avenue, the North Avenue Gateway complex, and the Mary Harvin Senior Apartments. These projects collectively added nearly 330 units of affordable housing to the city.

The Columbus School Apartments offers 50 affordable units, all one- and twobedroom, with eight units reserved for seniors and the disabled. The $13 million project was financed with about $11 million in federal historic tax credits and state funds, with additional funding provided by financial partners like Bank of America. The 68,000 square foot building uses Energy Star lighting and appliances, meets Baltimore City Green Building standards and has achieved Leadership in Energy Environmental Design Silver designation. It features modern amenities including a new entrance, multi-story lobby and elevator core, community room, computer lab and education center.

The hope is that the landmark status of the building – listed on the National Register of Historic Places – will help to spur further improvements in the neighborhood. With continued support from dedicated community partners like Bank of America, the historic Columbus School can do just that.

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