GENEVA — The Rev. Thomas Mull measures the long road to redevelopment of the former St. Francis School on Exchange Street in church pastors, not years.
Mull, current pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, said he is the third parish leader to be involved in the effort to convert the former Catholic school into senior apartments. He’s not exactly sure of the timeline but figures the effort has been going on at least 10 years.
The wait is over.
The project to convert the long-vacant school into senior housing is set to begin next week, Geneva Housing Authority Executive Director Andy Tyman said earlier this week. Along with that, the GHA’s Elmcrest and Courtyard apartments complexes are being renovated. Tyman said $25 million has been committed to renovation work at the three sites.
He said the St. Francis project redevelopment idea came from the Rev. Roy Kiggins, who is retired but still lives at St. Patrick’s Rectory in Seneca Falls.
“Father Roy Kiggins brought the concept up to me back when I was helping the parish develop the Parish Center,” Tyman said.
The housing authority director said finding the money to make the project a reality was not easy.
“We tried many different avenues to get that funded,” Tyman said, adding that even he did not know how far back the redevelopment plans for St. Francis go.
The funding was found when the Geneva Housing Authority took steps to convert its Elmcrest and Courtyard affordable apartments into the Rental Assistance Demonstration (multi-family) program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in conjunction with New York State Homes and Community Renewal.
“The conversion (to RAD for Elmcrest and Courtyard) opened the door to get St. Francis (funded),” Tyman noted.
With the number of units at Elmcrest reduced by 10 under the rehabilitation project — studio apartments were eliminated because of a lack of interest — Tyman said the authority was able to move those apartments over to St. Francis to make that project eligible for the RAD program.
Mull credited Tyman for the St. Francis project coming to fruition.
“It’s Andy’s vision that is making this possible,” he said.
In a prepared statement from the city, Mayor Ron Alcock hailed the news.
“Improving the quality of the city’s housing stock and range of options available to all Genevans is one of the key priorities in our Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “Increasing housing for our senior population through the St. Francis project, as well as making significant improvements to Elmcrest and Courtyard Apartments, will positively impact residents and the neighborhoods for years to come.”
“No family should face the fear of losing their home and we are committed to ensuring public housing across the state meets the needs of all New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated in a press release issued by his office. “By revitalizing and preserving over 200 homes in Geneva, we are investing in the future of the families they serve and building a stronger community to move the Finger Lakes Forward.”
The complicated funding components for RAD program conversion were approved in December by the state Housing Finance Agency and HUD, Tyman said.
The state Department of Housing and Community Renewal said it has invested $45 million in the Geneva project. Tyman said that includes all the costs associated with the major housing redevelopment and rehabilitation project. It not only encompasses construction costs, but includes debt payments and architectural and engineering services.
Mull said Our Lady of Peace sold the former school to the partnership for $50,000, and added the sale should save the parish about $50,000 in annual maintenance costs.
The pastor said he and parish members are pleased the long-vacant school has a future after sitting dormant for so long.
What St. Francis will have
Tyman said the St. Francis classrooms will be converted into 16 one-bedroom units. Each will have a kitchen and an open floor plan, as well as all-new windows and doors. New heating, electric and plumbing systems are being installed in the former school.
The building will get a new roof, and an elevator is being added.
The basement will have resident storage areas, community room space, including a dining hall and kitchen, laundry area, computer room and craft areas.
An adjacent five-bay garage is being downsized to make way for a 12-car parking lot. New sidewalks and landscaping are included as well.
Resetarits Construction of West Seneca, Erie County, is the general contractor.
Elmcrest, Courtyard and St. Francis are now owned by the newly formed Geneva CESF Limited Partnership, Tyman explained, adding that the Geneva Housing Authority “will continue to manage these properties as it currently does.”
In anticipation of the renovations, GHA stopped all leasing activities at Elmcrest and Courtyard in early 2017 and began with tenant relocation efforts three months ago, Tyman said.
“All residents will be allowed to return to their original unit if they meet certain qualifications,” he said.
Residential rents for the majority of residents will remain basically the same — 30 percent of the monthly adjusted income, he added.