Inspiration School renovation zoning hearings set for March 21 and 25

President/Owner Reid Butler, of Butler Housing Company, Inc. of Phoenix, shows his plans for the Miami/Inspiration Addition School at a citizen review meeting, held Thursday, March 7, at the Miami High School library. Photo by Carol Broeder.

There are big plans brewing for an abandoned school in Miami and the developer is returning to town after an initial meeting to get an idea of what the community wants.

Phoenix-based Butler Housing Company, Inc. is scheduled for hearings before the Town of Miami Planning and Zoning Commission, at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 21, as well as the Miami Town Council at 6 p.m. Monday, March 25.

Both will be at the Miami Town Hall, 500 W. Sullivan St., Miami.

At a March 7 citizen review meeting, President/Owner Reid Butler talked about his company’s proposed development project for the historic Miami/Inspiration Addition School, at 912 W. Rose, in Miami.

The property includes the three-story high school building constructed in 1916, an adjacent single level cafeteria/auditorium building and adjacent land. The buildings are currently vacant.

Butler’s proposed development would result in 40 to 48 “affordable apartments” both within the school building, as an adaptive re-use project, and as new construction on the vacant land adjacent to the school.

Butler Housing plans to do the new construction — a three-story building and a parking lot —with the parking count to be determined by the development team and the Town of Miami.

The development team consists of Butler Housing and Mode Housing, developers; Todd & Associates Architecture, architect; W.E. O’Neil Construction, general contractor; and Shelton-Cook, property manager.

The Miami Unified School District, owner of the Inspiration School building, and the development team have requested zoning from the Town of Miami that will allow development of the project.

The apartment building is intended to provide “affordable housing for the local workforce,” those with incomes up to $40,000 per year, Butler said.

He said the project would keep the school and make it into apartments.

“Classrooms convert really well into housing,” he added.

Features that would remain include the school’s main door, and the main hallways would remain the same.

With the classrooms’ wooden floors “in really good shape,” they would remain, as well, but the school’s windows would be replaced with energy efficient ones that look like the originals.

Butler said his company gave up the idea of keeping the original windows, as doing so would place “an energy cost burden on the occupants.”

Other than the features Butler said would remain, non-structural items would be removed and some asbestos abatement would probably have to be done.

As to the new construction, Butler said the building would be “clearly modern but similar in look” to the Inspiration School.

The proposed project would take about 15 months, he told the audience.

About 20 people attended the March 7 meeting, asking questions and also expressing some concerns about the proposed project.

Describing herself as the project’s “next door neighbor,” Bunney Kessler said there are residents who park in front of the school on a regular basis, and that not all are working vehicles.

Kessler and other residents talked about the neighborhood’s traffic problems in general, due in part to the very narrow streets.

Butler said they recently dealt with similar issues on a redevelopment project in downtown Tucson.

“There are always regional or community issues,” he said. “Here, one of the biggest community issues seems to be traffic.

“The community has to come up with a solution as well,” Butler said. “We’re not big fans of abandoned vehicles either.”

Miami Town Manager Joe Heatherly said, “We are looking at this already and starting to address this now,” working with the town’s Code Enforcement Officer Josh Derhammer and the Public Works Department.

Kessler also expressed concerns that neighborhood children, who had already broken the school’s old windows, might also break the new ones.

“Security is always a big issue,” said Butler, citing previous construction site problems with vandalism and curiosity seekers.

“Our current security plan is that whenever the contractor is not there, security is,” Butler said. “At some sites, we put up video cameras.”

Responding to audience questions about limited space at the construction site, Butler said, “Projects do create a lot of activity.”

Normally the company stages laborers on site, however, in this case, “We may have to stage offsite and then bring the laborers onsite,” he said.

As to how the proposed project would impact the local economy, Butler said, “We use a contractor out of Phoenix whom we’ve tasked with hiring as many local people as possible.”

Miami Junior/Senior High School Principal Glen Lineberry pointed out that while Miami would get the sales tax from materials purchased locally, it would also get the property tax permanently.

Butler said the project would require about $10 million in financing and would have no debt.

On April 1, Butler’s company will apply to the Arizona Department of Housing but would not be the only applicant.

“There’s usually about 30 projects that apply,” he said.

Butler gave the example that his company had to apply five times for a veterans project they ultimately completed.

“We have to compete,” Butler said. “But we know that this is the best program to transform schools like this,” which would never be schools again.

He went onto say that if his company did not win, “the school district will give us another chance in 2020.”

“There could be a Plan B,” said Butler, not elaborating further.

Talking about the importance of public meetings, he said, “It’s impossible for us to deal with problems we don’t know about. The last thing we want to do with this project is get it wrong.”

As to some of the issues raised during the March 7 meeting, Butler said, “When we do projects like this, often problems like that go away.”

An artist’s rendering of  the proposed development project involving the Miami/Inspiration Addition School. The site plan was rendered by the Phoenix-based architectural firm of Todd & Associates, Inc. Image provided.

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