Here’s a Christmas miracle for Amherst — the old Central School will get a second chance, just like George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Sprenger Health Care was awarded a nearly $1.5 million historic preservation tax credit Tuesday from the Ohio Development Services Agency.
It will be used to rehab the Church Street school, which has been closed since 1984, and turn it into an assisted living facility.
The total price tag: $12.17 million.
Amy Sanfilippo, vice president of acquisitions and development for Sprenger, said now the company can sit down with its architect, pull drawings, and start formulating detailed plans for the building.
Mayor Mark Costilow said he’s excited that millions of dollars will be pumped into the heart of town.
“It means a lot for the city. That’s somewhat of an eyesore the way it sits now,” he said.
“It’s good for the seniors, the people who went to that school. It’s good for the neighborhood and good for the city.”
In the past couple of years, the mayor’s office has penned letters of support for Sprenger to help with tax credit applications. The city has also made improvements to the sewers near Central School and held off on paving nearby Franklin Avenue in hopes that construction would get a green light.
Central School was built in 1907, its sandstone walls a testament to the quarry industry that put Amherst on the map in the 1800s.
It was one of 19 historic rehabilitation projects to receive support in this winter’s round of tax credits, which totaled $28.37 million spread among 22 buildings in 11 communities. The state said it expects the credits to lead to $165 million in private investment.
“Preserving historic buildings saves the unique history of our neighborhoods and downtowns,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency. “It also adds to the quality of life the community offers residents and visitors.”
Like Central School, many of the targeted buildings are vacant and haven’t generated money for the communities in which they stand. The goal is to jumpstart surrounding property values by investing in the white elephants.
We toured the aging Central School in August 2016, walking its dark hallways, gazing on its water-damaged gymnasium, and seeing where crews had been cleaning up.
The building has to be completely gutted, and crews got a start last year, filling dumpsters with debris. Ruined floors, destroyed electrical wiring, and rusted plumbing will all have to be replaced.
Architect Mike Cloud of North Coast Design Build said the state will require the flow of the former school’s halls to remain mostly intact, but the build must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which will mean installing an elevator.
Cloud said iconic parts of the building — its raised walking track, gym stage, skylights, and stonework — will be preserved or reconstructed.
Sprenger chief operations officer Michael Sprenger fondly remembered growing up next door to the school and playing basketball inside as a child. He said he was eager to bring light back to the long-dark building, but tax credits were necessary to offset the huge costs of renovation.
“We’ve looked at this for a long time — my cousin, my parents, and my uncle — but it just didn’t make sense,” he said restoration plans.
Ideas in the 1980s and 1990s to restore Central School were announced but never realized because they were cost-prohibitive.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.