Renovations to Central School — and an addition to connect it to the nearby Central Village Apartments — were approved Wednesday by the Amherst planning commission.
“I don’t see any reason why the approval for this should be held up,” city building inspector David Macartney told architect Mike Cloud of North Coast Design Build.
“You’re going to make a lot of people happy in this town if this goes through,” commission member Charlie Marty told Cloud after a 5-0 vote supporting Sprenger Health Care’s plan to resurrect the school, which has been closed 32 years.
State historical tax credits are needed to transform the long-dark and deteriorating Church Street building into a 40-unit assisted living center.
The State Historic Preservation Office is expected to announce award recipients the week of Dec. 12. Cloud said there’s a “small” chance Sprenger’s bid will be rejected.
North Coast is moving ahead in the meantime, using ground-penetrating radar to find buried utilities, clearing the inside of Central School of debris, and prepping it for demolition.
The facade of the old school will be left largely untouched — that’s a requirement of the SHPO — and the inside must retain its general flow and flavor. But Cloud told planning commission members there will be many changes.
They include restoring windows that were bricked up years ago, creating a small entrance on the north side of the school, building a ramp and retaining wall on Franklin Avenue where a partially-subterranean laundry and kitchen area will go, and replacing the roof.
Inside, the grand staircase at the entrance will be restored.
The biggest changes will be made in the center of the building, said Cloud, laying out plans for a salon, lobby, bar, elevator, lounge, activities area, and soda shop. Classrooms around the perimeter will be converted into suites for residents.
The old gymnasium will be converted into a dining area and the old walking track around the top will be restored, even extended from a U to a full loop.
Those who remember the school’s stage can rest assured it will be rebuilt. It can’t be restored as-is, however, because its wood has been irreparably damaged by decades of hot, cold, and humidity.
“The hardwood in the whole building is going to come out. It’s wrecked, and even if it wasn’t it has a lot of lead in it. It just has to go,” Cloud said.
Every attempt will be made to keep the former Central School’s aesthetics intact. But Cloud said state historians are more concerned with maintaining the general flow of the building and the law will require updates to comply with modern fire codes, safety laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Outside, North Coast will run new electrical, sanitary, water, and fire lines into the building. Cloud said he is finishing mechanical engineering now to find the best way to discharge roof drainage.
The historic preservation office will determine what kind of landscaping will be allowed. It is likely to be minimalist.
Cloud said the parking lot will also be resurfaced and painted. Assisted living residents will generally not drive but the building will need spaces for staff and visitors; how many spaces are required has yet to be determined, Macartney said.
Lights will be raised in the parking lot. They will be low and shaded to avoid light pollution that might bother neighbors. There will also be parking along Franklin Avenue.
The plans were met with approval not only by officials but also by Matthew Nahorn, vice president of the Amherst Historical Society. He made a brief statement supporting restoration and urging the commission to let the project move forward.
With the vote in his favor, Cloud said he plans to have a preliminary permit set ready to go before Christmas. As soon as the state tax credits are awarded, he wants to start writing checks and get demolition and abatement underway during the winter.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Mike Cloud of North Coast Design Build shows layout, engineering, and elevation maps to the Amherst planning commission, asking for approval of renovations at the former Central School.