ITHACA, N.Y. — From chalkboards, to bedboards — the former Immaculate Conception School near Washington Park is being looked at by a number of affordable and market-rate developers for the possibility of residential conversion.
“I don’t have anything official but we have had calls from developers looking to use the site for affordable housing and/or mixed income,” said city of Ithaca Planning Director JoAnn Cornish. “To date, most of the conversations have been about using the existing building and rehabbing it for housing. There has also been some discussion about building town homes or row houses along the frontage on Plain Street and Buffalo Street in addition to the school rehab project. Again, nothing official but we are getting calls from inquiring developers.”
Readers may recall that the private Catholic school at 320 West Buffalo Street closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year due to declining enrollment and increasing operating costs. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester owns and maintains the vacant structure. Options being considered include 100 percent affordable housing, or a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units.
A conversion into housing would not be all that unusual, even locally. Co-op condo-style units were carved out of what were once the East Hill (111 Stewart Avenue) and South Hill (110 Columbia Street) elementary schools in the city of Ithaca. After Henry St. John Elementary closed in 1983, INHS bought the building from the school district and renovated it into office space and affordable apartments. In Groton, the Schoolhouse Gardens affordable senior housing was Groton High School in a previous life.
The Immaculate Conception School is about 26,000 square feet according to data from the county tax assessor’s office, which is comparable to 28-unit Schoolhouse Gardens. That doesn’t count the rectory, which may or may not be part of a sale. As Cornish noted, a potential project may consist of not just renovations, but new town houses or row houses to complement the existing structure. If that option is pursued, zoning is R-2b, which limits those new additions to three floors and 35 percent total lot coverage.