Peering through the dirty windows of the old Central School, you can understand the excitement in Michael Sprenger’s voice.
It grew Aug. 1 as he led us around the facility, pointing out where he’s budgeted $100,000 for landscaping of public gardens and walkways outside the main entrance.
“We thought about sandblasting it, cleaning up all that stone, but I like the way it looks,” he said. “I like that it has age to it. Let a 1907 building look like a 1907 building.”
Using $3 million in state and federal tax credits, Sprenger is spending $9.5 million to renovate the old school, used by generations of Amherst students before its closure in the early 1980s.
When complete, it will boast 20 studio units and 20 one-bedroom apartments with as many as 80 residents.
Work is underway inside but we were barred from entering due to asbestos abatement. Outside, trees have been removed to provide a clear view of the building’s Amherst sandstone facade in the front, while excavators roll in the back.
Sprenger, who serves as chief operating officer of Sprenger Healthcare, showed us plans for the long-dormant building.
They start with restoration of the master staircase that sweeps upward from the main entrance. Building a similar feature today would cost millions.
On the first floor, the old gymnasium flooring has been ripped out, made unsalvageable by years of water damage. But the old stage many alumni remember will be rebuilt. The ground floor will also be home to a salon, clinic, and laundry services.
The second floor will feature a lobby with a full aquarium wall. The walkway that ringed the gym will also be preserved.
Perhaps most exciting is the third floor, where two skylights will be restored. There will be a soda shop and separate bar area. Sprenger described the bar as ornate in an Art Deco style reminiscent of the 1920s, with emerald greens, ruby reds, and velvet. Both will be open to the public.
“This is not an old folks’ home. This is a lifestyle choice,” said Sprenger.
“For folks who went to school here, it will be a big draw to sit inside and sip a martini while remembering all the experiences they had in there.”
Yes, the building is intended for Sprenger Healthcare clients. But it’s also intended to be used by the public.
Sprenger, who grew up next door and would often play basketball in the Central School gym, said he wants it to be a monument to Amherst. He said the renovations are a labor of love for him, just as the building was a labor of love for his father.
The family business started in Amherst and has grown into four states. Restoring life to the old Central building is a way to say thank you to the city for that success, he said.
In fact, Sprenger does not expect to make money on the property.
Construction is expected to last 16 months, which puts the completion date in early 2020.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.