Adaptive Reuse: Saint Mary Place

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A look at the interior of an historic school building conversion to affordable apartments.

Adaptive reuse of an historic school


This elementary school was built in 1898 for the children of the Saint Mary Star of the Sea Church parish. The school was closed after over a century of use and the building remained vacant save for Sunday school classes. The interior layout of the building is simple: Each of the three upper floors has 4 large classrooms and a hallway that links these to two stairwells. Four large chimneys sent heat to the classrooms. The lower floor has large boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, spaces for indoor recess and mechanicals.


Some of the original finish materials had not been touched since the original construction, some had been covered over. Little has probably ever been removed. We discovered hardwood floors under linoleum tile, tin ceilings behind hung ceilings and original bench-desks scattered throughout the spaces. All the original window and door trim had been kept except where changes had been made, for instance when exterior fire escapes were added some time before 1930.


After examining the condition of the building and studying its various rooms, we found that the classrooms on the upper floors lend themselves well to studio and one-bedroom apartment layouts, with the open living/dining area and semi-enclosed bedroom at the exterior walls, and the entry, kitchen and bathroom on the interior. We designed the entries to the apartments in the location of the original classroom doors, so that the original trim could stay intact. Wood trim at windows and at the original chalkboards will be removed and reinstalled after the addition of insulation to the exterior walls.

The basement has high windows which will allow light into the common rooms and offices to be located there. In order to access the basement easily, we designed a new entrance on what is now the most visible side of the building, with a ramp leading to the offices, mailboxes and common areas. From there, an elevator will bring residents to the upper floors.

In order to create a more energy efficient building envelope, we will add interior storm windows to repaired windows, and we will add insulation to the interior of the exterior walls. A gypsum veneer plaster will recreate the finish of the original walls on those surfaces. Elsewhere, plaster walls will be repaired.


Naturally lit, high-ceilinged apartments will have original, restored hardwood floors, tin ceilings and architectural detailing. The historic building’s old classrooms, hallways and staircases will begin a new chapter.





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