After plenty of discussions, planning and praying, the historic, but dilapidated Claflin School on Fifth Avenue in Columbus is now headed for better days.
The property at 1532 5th Ave., which served as the first school for black children in the city, soon will enter the construction phase of restoring the two buildings on the property for apartments, along with erecting a separate structure in the one-time schoolyard.
“I feel great. We’ve been working on this for four years and few months,” said the Rev. Richard Jessie, executive director of restoration with Historic Friends of Claflin, a nonprofit group that has lobbied and pushed for the former educational institution to be rescued. “Very few people in Columbus expected that this would happen, so I’m hoping that Columbus will get excited about this.”
Historic Friends of Claflin has partnered with Louisville, Ky.-based Oracle Consulting Services on the project, receiving the blessings of the city officials over the past year for the project. The city owns Claflin School, with its two buildings dating to 1921 and 1948 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Georgia Trust also placed Claflin on its 2016 “Places in Peril” list.
“You’ll see us on site within about two weeks,” Thompson Gooding, vice president of development services with Oracle Consulting Services, said Tuesday. “I want to say there’s about a month of (asbestos and lead) abatement and site work and then we’ll really get rocking and rolling with the actual construction. I believe by fall of next year we’ll have units coming on line.”
City building permits dated Aug. 9 show nearly $4.9 million is being spent on restoration and construction of 60,767 square feet of structures, with Renzo Construction, which is affiliated with Oracle, handling the work.
There are 44 affordable apartment units planned on the property, which will include 18 new units in the former schoolyard area. Apartment sizes will range from 650 square feet for one-bedroom units to about 1,250 square feet for the three bedrooms, with two bedrooms somewhere in the middle.
Though no lease prices have been set yet, a similar project that Oracle participated in and was completed about a year ago in Macon, Ga., called A.L. Miller Village, has its rates listed on Apartments.com. They show one-bedroom units going for $396 per month, two bedrooms for $589 and three bedrooms for $669.
“It’s not subsidized housing, but the taxpayer program that funds it offers tax credits to developers in exchange for keeping the rents artificially low,” Gooding said. “So you have to have a job and have documented income at least three times the rent. It’s for people that are working, in most cases full time, that just can’t afford what you would call market-rate apartments.”
In other communities in which Oracle Consulting Services has restored property, apartment tenants have included entry-level teachers and office workers, firefighters and some police and corrections officers, he said.
“It’s not what a lot of people think of with public housing or Section 8 or a lot of the stigma around affordable housing, where people don’t have a job and the government pays the rent,” Gooding said. “This isn’t that. It’s a completely different type of affordable housing.”
The Claflin School project will include setting up space for an education area to include the history of the property. There is expected to be meeting space and possibly a computer lab for classes, while nearby Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital is expected to bring its mobile medical unit to the site for health screenings. The apartment complex will include a fitness center.
Gooding said the 80-year-old buildings are in relatively good shape overall considering their age. There are busted windows and water damage, while the roof is damaged in places. Homeless people also inhabited the property through the years.
“That’s kind of the nature of a building that’s vacant and that old,” he said of Claflin, which will be sub-leased from the city for $1 per year, with renewal periods stretching up to 65 years. It will then be turned back over to the city, which will not spend a penny on restoration or maintenance.
The sub-lease is required for Oracle Consulting to receive state historic tax credits via the Georgia Department of Revenue. The company also has received millions of dollars in low-income housing tax credits through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
A ground-breaking event will be scheduled in a couple of weeks, Jessie said, with a Claflin Homecoming Jubilee planned for September. The long-term goal, he said, is to use the momentum from the Claflin School restoration for efforts toward tackling problems within the community to include poverty and the need for a living wage.