Carpenter School apartments on track for fall completion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2000

A crumbling blackboard is still visible through the wooden framing going up inside Carpenter School No. 1 on North Union Street. But not for long. Once crews complete an &uot;adaptive restoration and reuse&uot; of the former elementary school – on track for early fall of next year – the building will offer 38 one- and two-bedroom affordable apartments for senior citizens.

Built shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Carpenter No. 2 was one of three buildings built and donated to the city by the philanthropic Carpenter family for public schools in Natchez.

Renovations to Carpenter No. 2 on Washington Street, which now serves as the Natchez Senior Citizen Multi-Purpose Center, were completed last month. The third, Prince Street School, is occupied by a daycare center.

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Mimi Miller, Historic Natchez Foundation associate director, said the philanthropic efforts of the Carpenter family are often overlooked by Natchezians.

&uot;Our town will be forever indebted to the Carpenter family,&uot; she said. Besides the three schools, the family built and then donated many other structures to the city, and the Natchez-Adams School District and George W. Armstrong Public Library still benefit from a Carpenter trust fund, she said.

The $2.1 million restoration of Carpenter No. 1 is being financed through a partnership with the city, the county, United Mississippi Bank, the Natchez Council on Aging, local investors and out-of-town investors and developers.

James Johnston, community development coordinator, said the city and the county were both awarded $450,000 each from the Home Investment Partnership Program to put toward the restoration project.

Work on the restoration, which was scheduled to begin in Fall 1999, was delayed by an unsuccessful first attempt to receive low-income tax credits form the Mississippi Home Corporation and &uot;the multitude of agencies involved,&uot; Johnston said.

Once completed, the elderly apartments will be owned by Carpenter School I Elderly Apartments L.P., a limited liability corporation comprised of general partners and investors Kenneth Windham and Greg Collier and the Natchez Council on Aging.

Although the city will not hold ownership in the building, the apartments will provide a renewed source of tax revenues for the city, Johnston said.

Two additional partners key to the restoration project, Johnston said, are the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority out of McComb, particularly staff member Sheri O’Brien, and George C. Smith, director of Public and Indian Housing Division of Housing and Urban Development.

Carpenter No. 1 had been left largely unused since the 1980s and had become a storage site for the school district. Associated Charities also used the building for a time.

It took crews several weeks to clean and &uot;gut&uot; the building’s interior, a tedious process that cost almost $250,000, Johnston said.

Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the exterior of the building will not be altered by the restoration.

Sue Stedman, Natchez alderwoman and public properties chairwoman, said the restoration of Carpenter No. 1 will help round out the city’s L.U.M.P.s program, an initiative begun by former Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown to restore and adapt large, unused municipal properties.

Stedman said she believes senior citizens will enjoy living in the apartments because they have common needs and interests they will be able to share in a close environment.

The building is also specifically designed to be accessible for senior citizens with such features as wheelchair lifts and ramps, specially-designed hand rails and wider doorframes, said Gary Windham, construction manager for Collier-Windham Construction, contractors for the project.

Windham said the neighborhood has been receptive of the restoration project and several senior citizens have visited the site asking for rental applications.