October 20, 2014

Elyria
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‘Historic’ status would help convert school to condos

GRAFTON – People may someday be living where youngsters learned for more than 60 years.

STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE
Don Longwell of Grafton stands in front of the old Grafton School. Longwell attended the elementary school.

Developers have a plan to turn the old Grafton School, 1111 Elm St., built in 1936 during the height of the Depression, into a 39-unit condominium project.

The $6.8 million project depends on the Art Deco-styled school building being placed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Don Longwell of the Longwell Law Firm in Grafton.

The designation would help the project qualify for an estimated $1.8 million in preservation funds from the state and federal governments, said Longwell, 41, who attended kindergarten, first grade and fifth grade in the building.

“It`s a well-constructed building that`s in great shape,” Longwell said. “I think it`s unique.”

Longwell`s development firm, 1111 Elm Street LLC, consists of him, his wife, Inga Longwell, who also graduated from Midview Schools, and investor Matt Provenzano of Rockford, Ill.

The 62,000-square-foot building on 15 acres of land was mothballed about two years ago after several new schools were constructed. The Midview Schools have an agreement to sell the building for the equivalent of about $680,000 – including $240,000 in cash and the district taking possession of 18 acres of vacant land near Midview High School, said Superintendent Howard Dulmage.

Dulmage said the developers also have been paying the utilities in the old school, which run as much as $6,000 a month in the winter.

The plans call for condominiums in the old school with amenities such as granite countertops and high-end cabinetry, Longwell said.

He said the smallest unit would be about 840 square feet and the largest unit would be about 1,700 square feet over two stories.

An additional 60 acres nearby have been purchased that could be used for an additional 100 condominiums or a combination of condominiums and single-family homes, Longwell said.

If the Grafton School renovation becomes a reality, it will be the third project involving historic preservation overseen by Longwell.

He`s nearly done turning the old Cleveland Hotel in Conneaut into 28 residences and a number of commercial properties. A fitness center already is operating in the building, and condominium agreements are pending with a number of prospective buyers, he said.

The second project, the Gardens of Charleston at 610 Broadway in Lorain, across from the Palace Theatre, involves 29 residences and a number of storefronts, Longwell said. Two units are occupied and rentals there have been slow going, he said.

A decision on Grafton School could come as soon as Friday, said Tom Wolf, public education manager for the Ohio Historical Society. In addition to the original school building, there`s an addition that was built in 1959.

To qualify for the national register, a property has to be 50 years or older, retain “integrity” and meet criteria such as contributing “to the broad patterns of our history,” he said.

As one of 249 schools in Ohio built by the Works Progress Administration, the “Modernistic” Art Deco building is associated with government-funded construction of public buildings as a way of creating jobs during the Great Depression, according to material supplied by Wolf.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.