Wyalusing Academy

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Steps are being taken to have the former Wyalusing Academy building developed into a 40-unit apartment complex. (Courier Press file photo)


Wyalusing Academy may become apartment building

By Ted Pennekamp


Steps are underway to have the main building on the former Wyalusing Academy property developed into a 40-unit apartment building.

In 2014, River to Valley Initiatives, Inc., (RVI) a non-profit corporation based in Prairie du Chien, was selected by the former property owner, Clinicare of West Allis, Wis., to develop the property to be a positive and sustainable entity. The directive was to preserve the historical integrity of the property and save it from demolition, while preserving the tax base. The strategy was to proceed with marketing to find a quality development partner while meeting RVI’s IRS mission under 501 ( C ) 3. The property was officially donated to RVI in July of 2015.

RVI has now secured a partnership with Commonwealth Development of Fond du Lac, Wis., for the historic renovation and adaptive reuse of the property.

“We are pleased and excited to share our redevelopment plans for the historic St. Mary’s School that most recently operated as the Wyalusing Academy,” said Kevin McDonell, vice president of development for Commonwealth Development. “The adaptive reuse plans call for 40 apartments all within the former school. Reusing the existing building utilizing historic tax credits will create a mix of spacious two and three-bedroom units, while providing scenic views of the city. Amenities for the residents to enjoy will include a community room, computer room, fitness center and on-site property management office. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to preserve the historic school that has served the community since 1872.  Our historic adaptive reuse plans will ensure the proud legacy of St. Mary’s will be preserved and carried on as it was originally designed. Historically significant features such as the hardwood flooring, stone work, the gym, and chalkboards will be restored to ensure the building continues to provide a look into the history of Prairie du Chien.

“Steps away from the Mississippi River, the project will provide a serene location for residents to call home, while providing a use that is consistent with previous users of the space and ensuring the property does not become a blight on the surrounding neighborhood. Located near downtown Prairie du Chien with close access to schools, parks, jobs, and the hospital, the project will provide an ideal location for residents to call home. The demand for apartments in the city is at an all-time high with new high-quality options non-existent. In addition to satisfying the demand, the residents will provide an economic boost to the nearby businesses by providing a captivated audience to the surrounding businesses and continue to promote the reinvestment in downtown Prairie du Chien.

“We look forward to presenting the plans and are excited to for the opportunity to ensure the former St. Mary’s School/Wyalusing Academy can bring value to the community for years to come, while serving the community’s strong demand for quality housing.”

Julia Henley, president of RVI said, “Today RVI brings a great resource into Crawford County and the city of Prairie du Chien in its development partner Commonwealth Development Corporation. The adaptive reuse of this historic building will also make this the 16th National Historic Registry building in Prairie du Chien.

“Quality investment in housing is the basis for all other economic growth for a community. It supports existing companies’ need to attract workers for jobs, brings in new residents who pay taxes and use local business and health care, and is a boon to the economic health of a region intent on managed and manageable growth. Adaptive reuse of a stately historic treasure is especially important for the area which emphasizes the historic importance of Prairie du Chien and the Driftless Region. Sensitive adaptive reuse of historic buildings provide an attraction that goes beyond typical new construction, especially in a historic community such as Prairie du Chien. We look forward to seeing the success of this project and know that working together, it can provide a positive new chapter for the area.”

Henley and McDonell said that a very rough and conservative estimate of the cost of the project would be about $8 million at this very early stage. McDonell said that federal and state historic tax credits have the potential to pay for 20 percent of the project, which will be overseen by the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Office in order to ensure the historic integrity of the building is maintained while at the same time several modern renovations are done such as new, energy efficient furnaces, air conditioning units and an elevator are added, for example.

“This project is an ideal opportunity because the property recently became vacant, and therefore, is in fairly good shape,” said McDonell. “Having an historic look makes it so much more unique. We’re really excited about this project.”

McDonell said that the project is currently in the rezoning and financing phase. In fact, the proposed rezoning of the property was on the agenda of city of Prairie du Chien Plan Commission meeting scheduled for Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. A public hearing on the proposed rezoning is scheduled to be held during the Jan. 5, 2016 City Council meeting. The 14-acre property is zoned as R-1 (low density residential). The proposal is to have it rezoned as R-3 (high density residential).

Henley said that it is planned for Commonwealth Development to eventually own the property. Currently, there are no plans for the property’s other buildings.

“There are a lot of moving parts, right now, for this project, but if everything goes like clockwork, the renovation might start by the beginning of 2017,” Henley said, in noting that it is very difficult during this early stage to establish a time line.

Henley said Commonwealth Development has extensive experience in the renovation of historic properties. 

“The Commonwealth Companies develops, acquires, builds and manages multi-family properties in a variety of geographically, economically and socially diverse neighborhoods,” said the Commonwealth Development website. “Since 2001, Commonwealth Development Corporation has developed real estate holdings valued in excess of $136 million. Our portfolio of award-winning affordable and mixed-income developments demonstrates our expertise in structuring a development that is built as a long-term investment and an asset to communities.”

The website further states, “Commonwealth believes in the preservation of buildings of historic significance. We seek to preserve and restore the architectural legacy of the communities in which we work. Commonwealth’s experience with these highly sensitive projects ensures that the utmost care is taken when developing and renovating a historic building.” 

“Commonwealth is a quality group and we are very pleased to bring them in,” said Henley. “This is a pivotal project for the community and it’s going to be really good. This is what we hoped to accomplish. This is a very big deal, a real good shot in the arm.”

Henley said that the apartments will be high-quality, yet open to a wide range of people, and the building will be a nice fit within the existing neighborhood. 

“It will have comfort, efficiency and be a great place to live,” said Henley, in noting that the former Wyalusing Academy property will be the 23rd property RVI has redeveloped and enhanced the tax base and look of in Prairie du Chien.

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