Former Phillips school apartments ready
The former Phillips Middle School is nearly ready for people to move in as the building’s conversion into apartments nears completion.
Since 2014, Foutch Brothers LLC, of Kansas City, Missouri, has been working on remodeling the property.
Shawn Foutch, co-owner of Foutch Brothers LLC, which has developed and owned the property, answered some questions about the project and its upcoming completion date.
Q: Talk about the ongoing project to convert Phillips Middle School into apartments.
Foutch: The Phillips project is a historic renovation from the prior use as a school to its new use as a residential rental building. The building is placed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its architectural significance and historic importance to the local area. The renovation is being conducted in compliance with National Park Service standards for renovation of a historic building. From the outside, the building will continue to look exactly like the school it has always been. From the inside, it will also look much like it historically did, until you get into individual apartments. There you will see a unique combination of modern conveniences and historic materials, trim, space, and dimensions. The project creates 72 apartments including studio, one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom units. The building will have a community meeting room, a theater room, a fitness center, onsite manager’s office, and a small indoor parking area. Outside, we are providing a fenced dog exercise area and an outdoor grill/picnic area. The existing auditorium remains in place as it was, for use by residents and the community. Off-street parking is provided on the north and south sides of the building on areas that previously were streets. We will have a full-time manager and a maintenance person working onsite. All rental units are available to the general public at market rates (there are no low-income set aside or income restrictions.) We allow pets, but we are serious about requiring pet owners to take responsibility for their pet’s behavior.
Q: How long has this project been going on for? When is the projected completion date?
Foutch: We acquired the Phillips school in 2014, and immediately started design and finance work.
Although the design work was mostly complete by the spring of 2015, it took until the summer of 2017 to get banking and investors all agreed on the project. Construction started in July of 2017.
Apartments will be ready for move-ins by Jan. 1, 2019, so we are leasing now. Some of our final touch-up work inside the building will continue through January 2019.
Q: What type of work has had to go into converting the former school into apartments?
Foutch: The project involves considerable architectural study and documentation to determine that the building was eligible for the National Register, and then to design improvements that retain the historic character while achieving the needed performance for its new use. The construction work started with massive demolition and removal of damaged and non-historic materials. We removed and replaced all plumbing, electrical and heating materials from the entire building, except some of the old boilers and heat exchangers that are decommissioned but remaining in the old boiler room. We replaced the roof, installed new mechanical systems, and framed out interior walls within each apartment. We had to make lots of repairs to plaster walls and ceilings and wood floors due to water damage that occurred since the school was last used. Then new walls and paint, new flooring, new appliances and all the other fixtures wanted in modern apartments. The building includes secure exterior door entrances and security cameras throughout the public entrance areas.
Q: Have there been any challenges along the way?
Foutch: There are always challenges along the way with this type of building. The first here was to get the financing in place. This is a relatively big project in a moderate sized, rural community (by banking standards). That presented a challenge to attract banks and investors.
The second biggest challenge was the amount of damage due to water infiltration during the couple of years the building was not occupied. There was massive damage to plaster and wooden floors throughout the building.
Finally, there are always unexpected things we find when we tear into a historic building — things that are covered up by existing walls and ceilings that were not anticipated. Although we deal with this all the time on historic renovation projects, it requires flexibility, thorough knowledge of code requirements (and a good proactive relationship with local code officials), and creative problem solving to figure out how to deal with the unexpected.
Q: What would you say that future renters will enjoy the most about these apartments?
Foutch: Although most people have probably never considered living in a school, these buildings make great apartments. The building is extremely well-built — very solid — so walls and floors are thick and apartments are generally quieter than in some modern buildings. There are almost no two apartments in the building that are exactly the same, so there is lots of variety and lots of unique characteristics that show up in each apartment. The apartments have tall ceilings, large windows (or skylights), some hardwood floors, modern appliances, individual heat and cooling controls, and all the expected comforts of an apartment, in a place that looks like no other apartment building.