WEST PULLMAN — One of the schools closed during the mass school closings of 2013 has found new life as a home for older people — and it’s retained some of the flavor of its school days, including the chalkboards.
The West Pullman Elementary School — a historic landmark whose three buildings were built in 1894, 1900 and 1923 — was among the 48 Chicago public schools closed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013. Developers Celadon Holdings and Urbanworks renovated the buildings inside and out, turning them into an affordable apartment complex with 60 units for older people.
The complex at 11941 S. Parnell Ave. was recently awarded the 2021 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse, with the organization honoring the developers for responding to neighbors’ “desire to see these places restored and returned to usable space.”
“Instead of children running back [and forth] and playing, now we have seniors there,” said Tiffany Moore, the director of operations for 5T Management, which manages the building. “They’re able to relive their golden days with the new architecture all around them.”
The buildings’ managers also provide tours to people who want to look at the facility’s architectural and historical features.
The buildings’ classrooms and teacher’s rooms were converted into apartments and lounges for residents. The developers thought it was important to remind older residents of their youth and the schools they attended, so they kept many of the building’s original finishes and features, Moore said.
The exteriors also remained largely unchanged, with developers mostly restoring, not replacing, the original brick, stone and wood that makes up the West Pullman school.
“We have to make sure that we’re respectful of the space, and so we still have a lot of original pieces, like we still have the chalkboards inside there,” Moore said. “You can use the chalkboards as the headboards to your bead. Some of the cabinetry that was built into the building, we now have a storage for residents inside of their unit.”
A third of the residents receive subsidized housing through the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, a rental assistance program.
Moore thinks using existing empty buildings for housing is a sustainable solution to the growing need for affordable housing.
“We wanted to make sure that instead of having a building that could be an eyesore or that’s empty and underutilized, that it’s something available for the population,” Moore said. “We want to make sure they have something that is of quality, but also affordable at the same time.”
Although most of the units are already occupied by residents from the community, there’s still work to be done on the West Pullman complex, Moore said. The buildings’ developers want to rework the existing auditorium and gymnasium so the spaces can be used for public events and communal gathering among residents.
Developers are also interested in partnering with outside groups that can help organize activities and events for the residents, including a Senior Funfest for this summer, Moore said.
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