The Times-Picayune, June 6, 2011
A historic and dilapidated former Algiers school is getting new life with plans to convert the long vacant building into apartments for senior citizens and the disabled.
The former Belleville School, portions of which have been in disrepair for decades, is set to undergo a $13 million renovation to create 52 assisted-living apartments. Construction could be complete by February, said Sean Arrillaga, a vice president for St. Luke’s Living Center in Algiers, one of the partners in the renovation deal.
Most apartments will be about 550 square feet, which Arrillaga said is larger than the current market average.
The group closed on the school site at 813 Pelican Ave in May, and demolition of the interior has begun, he said. Arrillaga declined to identify the other investors in the project, but said the project will qualify for state and federal historic tax credits, along with new markets tax credits.
The group decided to renovate the Belleville School because of the surrounding neighborhood, Arrillaga said. He called Algiers Point a “quaint, historic neighborhood.”
Cecelia Hemelt, who will be the administrator of the 56,000-square-foot property, said the neighborhood is a good fit.
“We really liked the location and the community of Algiers Point,” she said.
Hemelt said the apartments will be geared toward residents 55 and older or high-functioning disabled people. There will be a director of nursing on duty during the day and several aides there around the clock. All rooms will have handrails and other amenities to provide easier access.
Belleville School’s current makeover as an assisted-living facility is just the latest twist in its saga, which includes several failed redevelopments in the past two decades. The school has been vacant since 1987, and through the years developers have envisioned it as condominiums, a hotel and spa, and, in 1989, apartments for senior citizens and the disabled. The main structure of the school — a three-story, red-brick building — was completed in 1898, and wooden annexes were built in 1907 and 1925.
Skip Gallagher, the president of the Algiers Point Association, said the group is excited to finally see some action occurring at the school site after years of watching the building deteriorate. He said an assisted-living facility is one of the best uses for the building, and he doubts it will be a large drain on parking in the surrounding neighborhood, which was a concern of some residents. Gallagher said it would have been far worse if the abandoned building continued to be a blight on the Point.
“For the most part, we’re encouraged by it,” said Gallagher, adding that it’s great to see a historic building salvaged instead of demolished by neglect. “The biggest concern we had was that it wouldn’t happen. That would be criminal.”