Housing proposed for former Hudson Middle School

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
The Hudson school board approved a letter of intent with Liberty Development at its Monday meeting. This is not a binding contract, but indicates the school district wants to explore the feasibility of Liberty Development's proposal, which is to convert the former middle school to residential use.

HUDSON – The original part of the former Hudson Middle School could become repurposed as housing, according to a proposal brought before the Hudson Board of Education Monday night.

The school board unanimously approved a letter of intent with Liberty Development Company in Westlake, which proposes looking into the possibility of converting the part of the former middle school, built in 1927, into housing units, and building additional town homes on the land on the middle school property.

Superintendent Phil Herman said this was not a binding contract, but shows the school board’s approval in exploring the feasibility of the idea with Liberty Development.

Dur Siley, Liberty’s vice president of development and himself a Hudson High School graduate, said that the proposal calls for around 30 housing units, which includes roughly 18 to 23 units within the former middle school itself, plus around eight townhouses nearby.

“As it stands now, it’s a lean overall deal,” Siley said of the economics. “The threshold is around 30 units. If we go much lower, there could be issues with affordability. I don’t think we’d have a project.”

In addition, Siley said that the number of housing units that could fit in the 1927 part of the structure was unknown. For example, “each residential unit must have a bedroom window,” per building codes. In addition, the company would have to think of ways to reconfigure the wide corridors, the large auditorium and other school features “to make units large enough for those who want to live on one floor.”

Building condition also could play a role in the feasibility, Siley said.

“Any time there’s an old building like this, even as many times as it has been scrutinized, we could find something unanticipated,” he said. “We could find a hidden panel of asbestos tucked away, an unknown tank.”

However, even with the challenges, Siley said that housing would be a good fit for the school building, and the area is good for additional residential.

“You can’t beat the location,” Siley said. “It’s in the middle of Hudson, it’s in a building that has a historic tie.”

If the project goes forward, Liberty isn’t “planning a lot of changes in the exterior look,” Siley said.

“The building and character contribute to its attractiveness,” Siley said.

In addition to the former middle school and additional townhomes, Siley said that Liberty “saw a lot of potential” in converting the Saywell House, near the former middle school, which is currently used for maintenance, back into a residential home.

Siley said that the company would propose changing the current zoning of the school property to “better align with the zoning in the rest of the neighborhood.”

Board president David Zuro said he was pleased to see the proposal.

“It’s gratifying all the time and effort in the feasibility has led to a potentially viable proposal here, and one that is respectful of its surroundings and also compatible with our school property and the campus,” Zuro said. “We are encouraged by all of that.”

Requesting ideas

Herman said that initially when the district was creating its master facilities plan, which included constructing a new middle school near the former building, the idea was to tear down the entire former middle school. However, “the public expressed concern about the part built in 1927,” so a committee was formed to look at the feasibility of saving that part of the structure. The district still plans to tear down the parts of the building constructed between 1960 and 1970.

The former middle school building had served as the district’s high school until the new high school was completed in 1992.

“We had many, many ideas for this school building,” Herman said. “We had ideas for mixed use office and residential, a training facility for medical sciences, a cultural and performing arts center, a senior center and a business incubator.”

The district sent out a request for proposal in January, with a deadline for proposals set in late March, “but if you remember, something else happened then,” Herman said, referring to the pandemic and the order from the governor’s office to shut down the state’s school buildings. Only one response, from the Hudson Heritage Association for a community cultural arts center, was submitted by deadline.

Then, in the summer, Herman said Liberty Development approached the district with its idea of a residential development.

Currently, the 1927 part of the building is being used used as an education facility for third through fifth grade through June 2021. The district should be finished with its need for that part of the middle school, but the letter of intent does not prevent the district from using the building after June 2021 should it be needed.

“There is nothing binding until we reach an agreement,” Herman said. “Should the pandemic go on, should we need to spread students out, this does not prevent us from using that building. Hopefully we won’t get to that point and we won’t need to do that.”

Facilities plan

The district opened its new $46 million, 181,000-square-foot middle school, which is near the former middle school, this school year. This and other renovations are being funded through an $81.5 million, 4.97-mill bond issue passed by voters in November 2017.

The district’s third, fourth and fifth graders are at the former middle school because of renovations at McDowell Elementary School and East Woods Intermediate School.

Improvements for East Woods, which had been used for the district’s fourth- and fifth-grade students, includes an 18,000-square-foot, two-story expansion, which will add 14 classrooms. The expansion also will include a new elevator.

Both East Woods and McDowell will have new paint, flooring, ceilings, new interior doors, new cabinetry, restroom upgrades, lighting replacement and more. Lockers will be replaced at both buildings, with cubbies replacing lockers at McDowell. Both buildings also will have partial roof replacements done.

Construction and renovation work at East Woods and McDowell started this summer and are expected to be complete in the summer of 2021, with the buildings ready for the 2021-22 academic year. When the work is completed, East Woods will be for grades three through five, and McDowell will be for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Previously, McDowell was the school for the district’s third graders, and fourth and fifth grades went to East Woods.

"Both East Woods and McDowell are on schedule and on time to open for school next year," said Sheryl Sheatzley, manager of communications and alumni outreach, on Tuesday. "The mddle school parking lot and the demo of the back part of the old middle school, not the 1927 part, is scheduled to take place right after school is out in June. We are moving right along."

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com