The long-empty sandstone shell of Central School could be resurrected at last.
Sprenger Health Care wants to open a 20-unit assisted living center in the old Church Street building, according to Michael Cloud, president of North Coast Design Build.
Rumors have abounded since workers were spotted earlier this summer inside the school, which has been closed since 1984.
In the past week, we’ve received calls from residents worried the historic building could be torn down. They were alarmed to see a construction crew throwing debris into a giant dumpster in a parking lot adjacent to the Amherst fire station.
Speculation about the old school’s future started when city workers put a six-inch water tap under brand new pavement in front of the school in July.
“There are rumors they’re going to do something with that building,” utilities superintendent Ron Merthe said. “If that’s the case, I didn’t want to have to tear the road out again.”
Merthe confirmed he’d met with Sprenger reps to discuss possible plans for the property. Mayor Mark Costilow and council president John Dietrich also sat in.
Afterward, Costilow penned a letter of support for renovation of Central, calling it “a significant piece of Amherst’s history” dear to many of the residents who attended there.
“Built in 1908 of Amherst sandstone, this building has been vacant and deteriorating over the past 30 years and is in desperate need of rehabilitation before its genuine character is lost forever,” he wrote.
That letter went to the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program, operated in Columbus by the Ohio Development Services Agency.
It is marked for use in a historic tax credit application by Sprenger.
The company — which runs Amherst Central Village and Amherst Manor as well as Anchor Lodge Retirement Village, Autumn Aegis Retirement Community, the Elms Retirement Village, and a host of other sites — plans to ask for millions of dollars in state tax credits in an application due at the end of the month.
Cloud and Sprenger executives have been reluctant to share details of their plans, saying that doing so could give other tax credit applicants an advantage.
Company president Kenneth Malanowski at first said he “didn’t want to raise hopes” by going public with development plans in case Sprenger’s tax credit bid is unsuccessful.
After further discussions with public officials, Cloud said on the record that the project would entail a common space and preservation of certain historical elements of the 108-year-old building.
Central School was placed in the 1980s on the National Register of Historic Places.
That status protects the outside of the building. Cloud said very little will be done to the exterior and his company wants to do everything possible to protect its trademark sandstone and decorative markings.
Questions about the future of the school aren’t new.
The sandstone building as we know it today was built in 1908 at a cost of $3,200 (previous incarnations on the same property were destroyed in fires). It was used until 1984 and News-Times archives document how a development committee pondered what the school district should do with the building, finally deciding to auction it to Sprenger in 1987.
Sprenger owns and operates Amherst Central Village on South Main Street, which backs the Central School property on the back side.
Central Village was built in 1989 at a cost of $2.5 million. It was built as part of a planned two-phase project — the second phase included renovation of Central School.
That effort was to begin in 1992-1993. At the time, co-owner Tony Sprenger said renovation would include revamping the school’s gymnasium and stage as a public community center. The old plan also included retirement apartments and lofts — about 40 to 60 units in all.
But phase two never got off the ground.
Late mayor John Higgins tried to resurrect a Central School plan again early in the millennium, working with Sprenger and local developer Bill Starbuck.
That vision called for a mixed-use community with condo-style living and retailers under the same roof.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Amherst’s old Central School is being eyed for a major renovation project.