A New Life for a Vacant Elementary School

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(Photo above, Courtesy of Pinnacle Architecture)

When Ochoco Elementary School closed in Prineville after seven decades, an opportunity presented itself. Housing Works, Central Oregon’s regional housing authority, began planning to transform the school into Ochoco School Crossing, a 42,000 SF apartment community for individuals and families who earn at or below 50 percent of the area’s median income. With a vacancy rate near zero, the community needed affordable housing.

“This is one of the coolest developments we’ve ever undertaken. The preservation of a school structure that has such rich history in this town and converting it to multifamily housing is such a great story,” said Housing Works’ Director of Real Estate Keith Wooden.

The school included 23 classrooms, a library, a cafeteria and a gym. The transformation created 29 homes including studios, one, two and three bedrooms. The old boiler and storage room became a community room for the residents. Crook County Parks and Recreation District is utilizing the gym for a community recreation center. Additionally, NeighborImpact changed an adjacent building which formerly served as the school cafeteria, into a Head Start for early education.

“Schools provide an excellent structure to adapt to housing. Classrooms with their wide spans and large windows easily convert into individual apartments,” said Peter Baer, president and principal architect at Pinnacle Architecture.

The design finds a beautiful balance of modern and historical. Bright colors and striking apartment numbers combined with historic memorabilia throughout the building create a welcoming place to call home. The apartment interiors include warm wood-inspired plank flooring and clean, modern white cabinets. Each of the 29 homes has dual entrances — one into the wide hallway and one to outdoor patios. Central outdoor space and playground create a true community for the residents.

Renovation projects are no easy task. You never know what you’ll find behind existing walls. R&H Construction, the general contractor for the project, discovered their fair share of challenges but also some wonderful Central Oregon memorabilia including a historical American flag and newspapers dating back decades.

Funding for the development was made possible through an award of federal low-income housing tax credits provided by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) and HOME funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The property was fully leased within days, and the entire project team and community celebrated with a grand opening on October 29. Former teachers and students raved about the amazing transformation. Ochoco School Crossing serves a great housing need for Prineville and preserves a piece of Central Oregon history.

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