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Housing problems? Look to the old school

City planners, private developers, and civic interest groups in the Northeast are combining their efforts in a new kind of urban development: recycling abandoned or outmoded public buildings.

Acity in such conversions has blossomed in recent years with the convergence of three forces: unparalleled high inest rates making new building expensive, retance to increased municipal taxes, and an unally large number of school closings as the United States comes to the end of the World War II baby boom.

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* A New Britain, Conn., school building was converted into 99 rental units for elly and low-income residents, with the US Department of Hous and Urban Development (HUD) holding a $2,791,422 mortgage.

* Six schools were converted into 132 units in Baltimore, using a $4 million city bond financing arrangement.

* Citizens on Nantasket Isd, off Massachusetts, voted 401 to 7 to convert an eletary school into senior citizen housing.

* Schoolhouse 77 -- a 118-unit, scattered-site senior citizen complex in Boston's Roxbury section -- utilizes three recycled eletary schools and an abandoned instrument facy.

* Also in Boston, a high school in the Charlestown section is being stud for possible conversion into senior citizen housing, alugh condominiums and light industrial use are also un consideration.

Cities cannot afford -- if they ever could -- to let such valuable assets lie dormant -- or worse, fall into disrepair.For cities like Boston and Baltimore in the industrial East, these old buildings, once tars of the urban renewal wrecking ball, now are seen as a value resource.

Many outmoded schools, firehouses, police stations, libraries, and boarded up factories, are strucally sound and even architecturally interesting buildings -- and city officials want to find ways to utilize them.

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Urban planners now prepare strategies for city-owned structures, even before the building has been abaned, says Michael Killion of Boston's Surplus Propy Department. This is cernly the case with school closings (13 will be closed in Boston this June). "It just makes more sense to show the building off to prospective deopers, comnity groups, and federal government agencies when the lights and heat are on. When it is not all boarded up. The city has a stake in maximizing the sale price of a valuable real-estate asset," he says.

To a large extent this recycling of municipal buildings has been limited to the East, says John Wester, in charge of multi-unit developments for HUD in the Seattle area. "Most of the really older municipal buildings are on the East Coast, where they are made of bricks, marble, and mortar."

West Coast development, being more recent, in most cases occurred after the shift to plaster and wood frame struces. The buildings are just not as durable, Mr. Wester says, and it is easier to raze an outmoded structure and build a new one than to rehabilitate it. Besides, most of the muipal buildings are new enough that they are still in use for their original purpose.

Among factors making it desirable to convert outmoded muipal buildings for housing or other uses is the optunity to preserve a structure of historic or aesthetic value.

Also, since the type of work required to renovate old buildings is genally more labor-intensive than new construction, more jobs are genated. Neighborhood and miity groups have been quick to write into conversion agreements prosions that a percentage of workers must come from the immediate neighborhood.

"Livlity" is also a factor in deciding to recycle old buildings. Usuy they allow for larger and more appealing uses of space than does modern construction because of economics: the old build's essential components are aldy in place.

But the biggest factor lies in city governments wanting those buildings back in productive use, either for comnity purposes, or generating revenue on the tax roles.


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