ANDERSON — Geri Centers remembers her daily walk to school, her classrooms and her “beautiful” Spanish teacher.

As a seventh- and eighth-grader, Centers attended Central Avenue School in Anderson. She recently returned, this time looking for an apartment.

“I lived out of town for 17 or 18 years,” she said. “Now I’m back in Anderson. I’m glad they decided to restore (the school).”

Central Avenue School has been recast as Central School Senior Apartments, and the development opened its doors to guests and potential residents during an open house last month. The event triggered a rush of memories for those like Centers, who attended the former elementary school.

Each of the original eight classrooms has been transformed into an apartment, some with original features including blackboards and shelving, still intact.

“The outside, definitely,” said Centers, who first came to Central Avenue School in 1963. “Right away it looked familiar.”

Central Avenue School was built in 1891 as one of 12 Anderson elementary schools constructed in a Romanesque style and one of 16 in Madison County. Designed and built by architects Charles F. Parker and Ernest R. Watkins, it was decommissioned in the 1970s and is the only one of its kind left standing.

“This is one-of-a-kind today,” said Kato Smith of Kato Design Studio, who served as architect for the project. “They had planned to tear it down.”

Decades of decay and neglect nearly destroyed the building. Instead, thanks to the intervention of Smith and others, the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Historic Landmarks Foundation funded a study of adaptive uses.

“What you’re seeing today is exactly what the kids coming in saw every day,” Smith said. “Each unit was actually a classroom.”

Several apartments were available for viewing during the open house. The curious were greeted by spacious, high-ceiling units with one or two bedrooms. All were carpeted with linoleum in the kitchens and bathrooms, and crown molding around the windows and door frames.

“I’ve got to hand it to the visionaries who spent $25,000 117 years ago to create a part of Anderson history,” said Leo Stenz, president of Stenz Corp., which led the restoration and will serve as property manager for the next two years. “We feel it’s the type of property the city of Anderson needs.”

According to Stenz, $4.5 million was spent to restore the Central School building and to add a second structure to the premises. The main building houses 19 living units, while the secondary structure features 16.

Central School Senior Apartments opened in February. The renovation project was developed by Quality Housing Development Inc., a nonprofit housing agency, in partnership with LifeStream Services, a local nonprofit agency on aging that helps people with independent living solutions.

Kenneth Adkins, president and CEO of both Quality Housing Development and LifeStream, said Central Avenue School’s status as a historic structure placed restrictions on what improvements could be made.

“There were certain walls we couldn’t touch; we have doors that go to nowhere,” he said. “At first, it seemed natural to connect the two buildings, but we found out we couldn’t do that.”

The renovation project may have cost several million dollars, but the apartments were designed to be affordable. One-bedroom units range from $272 to $475 per month, while two-bedroom units range from $466 to $550.

“Someone can move in here and live for about 200 bucks a month and have a safe, livable place where services are provided,” Adkins said.

Rents are subsidized through federal programs, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and Rental Housing Tax Credit and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Home program. As of the open house, Adkins said, Central School Senior Apartments already had six residents, and two more had committed to move in after the open house.

Each apartment features a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, garbage disposal and access to laundry facilities. Residents also have access to community rooms.

And despite all the modern amenities, much of Central School Senior Apartments has been restored to its original, 19th-century style. Its brick exterior remains untouched, and the massive stone arches remain a major feature of the first floor. Each unit features the tall, arched windows that allowed light to pour in before electricity was a standard feature.

Even the updates exude a vintage charm. Hallway floors have been laid with slatted wood in a rich brown shade, and lighting comes from black, long-stemmed ceiling fixtures. Five-panelled wooden doors with simple handles are the norm.

“Everyone who knows me knows how much I believe in the past,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th District, a featured speaker during the open house. “A project like this connects the past to the present, and all those things tie us together.

“Policy matters, but people matter more. And I have supported low-income housing credits for this and other projects.”

During 22 years with the Anderson Police Department, Anderson Mayor Kris Ockomon said, he was called out to the one-time elementary school dozens of times on reports of vandalism and break-ins.

“For years, Central School was a dirty place that I had to walk through,” he said. “I would get home, and my wife would ask me how my uniform got so dirty.

“What an exciting time for Anderson and for the neighborhood that we’re cleaning up the property. We’re making little improvements to fulfill a hope and a dream for this neighborhood.”


Central School Senior Apartments

• 2120 Central Ave., Anderson

• 35 units, open to seniors 55 and older

• Leasing office open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays

• For more information, visit the leasing office between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays or call (765) 649-7970 or (877) 236-8278

Income guidelines

Residents of Central School Senior Apartments must meet income guidelines established by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, based on median family income and the number of occupants, shown in parentheses.

• 30 percent of MFI: $13,500 (one person), $15,400 (two people), $17,350 (three people), $19,200 (four people)

• 40 percent of MFI: $17,900 (one), $20,520 (two), $23,080 (three), $25,640 (four)

• 50 percent of MFI: $22,450 (one), $25,650 (two), $28,850 (three), $32,050 (four)

Units available

A breakdown of the 35 units available at Central Avenue Senior Apartments with the number of units, income requirements and the monthly rent. Note: Some units may no longer be available.

• 4 one-bedroom units, 30 percent MFI: $285

• 3 one-bedroom units, 40 percent MFI: $405

• 4 two-bedroom units, 40 percent MFI: $488

• 8 one-bedroom units, 50 percent of MFI: $525

• 9 two-bedrooms units, 50 percent of MFI: $632

• 7 one-bedroom units, market rate: $495

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