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Development Spotlight | Howell School Senior, Dothan

January 28, 2021

Howell School Senior Apartments is a 55-unit affordable housing development that serves as home to low-income, senior residents of the Dothan community.

This development, a historic adaptive reuse project by The Banyan Foundation, Inc., received a 2017 funding award of $866,080 in Housing Credits, administered by AHFA. We recently spoke with Bailey Coats, business analyst of The Banyan Foundation, to get a developer’s perspective on such a unique undertaking.

Q: What, in your mind, is special about the development?

A: Unlike the typical development, Howell School Apartments is a rare, adaptive, historic reuse property. Dothan College Grammar School was constructed in 1899 for $15,000 and served as Dothan’s first elementary school. After a 1901 fire, J.W. Baughman rebuilt the school in 1902 for $40,000. Building A, home to 22 of the 55 units, is the original structure of the 1902 Dothan College Grammar School.

After Howell School closed in 1942, the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Club used the building during World War II. The building was converted for use as a textile mill in 1947. The school became Dothan Manufacturing Company in 1952 and remained in operation until 1991. Dothan Apparel Company then operated the factory until its closing in 1997. Until October of 2018, Howell School remained dilapidated and vacant.

What is so unique about this development is that the main building has served so many different aspects of the Dothan community. First for education, then for hospitalization and care, then industry production, and it now serves the senior community of the Dothan area. To have a structure’s purpose come full circle is an indescribable sensation and further adds to the uniqueness of the project.

Q: What amenities or tenant services are you proud to offer?

A: Howell School Apartments offers a variety of amenities to its residents. Such amenities include a fitness room, internet lounge, laundry room, leasing office, kitchen, and coffee bar. In addition to these items, the historical building includes a large, spacious community room on the main floor of the historic building equipped with dining tables and comfortable seating with a large TV for resident enjoyment.

Q: With this project you have been able to both preserve a local landmark in the Dothan community and create affordable housing. Tell us about the unique challenges presented by renovating a historic building and repurposing it into affordable housing.

A: When creating any development, you run into challenges. Now, multiply that times 10 and that’s the number of challenges you get with an adaptive, historic reuse project.

All jokes aside, the most unique challenges of the development came in the form of preserving the historical integrity of the building, despite adverse circumstances. When construction began, Hurricane Michael had several effects upon the project; the roof of the historical building ended up caving in and water damage was a major concern, as well. However, despite these challenges, the collaboration between the development team, the National Historical Commission, and the Alabama Historical Commission to overcome these challenges made the success of this project possible.

Q: Why was it important to invest the time and effort into preserving this building for the Dothan community?

A: Howell School was one of the last historical pieces of architecture in the Dothan community, and one of the few remaining in the state of Alabama. Dothan has also been experiencing a massive revitalization in the downtown region. The reuse and development of Howell School added to the City of Dothan’s mission to bring a new sense of life back to the downtown community.

Q: How was the lease-up process for this development?

A: Howell School Apartments was 100 percent pre-leased prior to construction completion. Through the diligent work of the Dothan Housing Authority (DHA) as well as the successful collaboration with Gateway Management, the lease-up process for the development was more successful than anticipated by the entire development team.

Q: Did the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic present challenges during the construction or lease-up phases of this development?

A: As we all know from experience, COVID-19 has had major effects upon everyone this past year. When COVID-19 hit Alabama, Howell School was in its final weeks of construction. CGM Construction rose to the challenge and worked diligently, and most importantly, safely, to help push the project to the finish line. As referenced above, the collaboration between DHA and Gateway Management made the lease-up phase of the project utterly seamless.

Q: How has Howell School Senior been received by the residents?

A: The Howell School residents have loved the development. We have received such positive feedback and such an overwhelming amount of appreciation from the residents. It has been an awesome experience to watch the once-empty units take on a new life as each resident customizes and makes each apartment feel like a home.

Q: What are some lessons that you have learned from this process that would help other developers considering historic adaptive reuse projects?

A: Howell School Apartments is a successful development because of solely one thing: collaboration.

Through the partnership of The Banyan Foundation, Inc. and Resource Housing Group; architects Studio 8 Design and Donofro Architects; former and current mayors of the City of Dothan, Mike Schmidtz and Mark Saliba; Bank of the Ozarks; Stratford Capital; the National Historical Commission; the Alabama Historical Commission; the Alabama Housing Finance Authority; the Alabama Housing Authority; the Dothan Housing Authority; general contractor CGM Construction; and the City of Dothan as well as the entire Dothan community, Howell School Apartments became a reality.

We hope that this project serves as a testament to the value of having the public and private sectors of business work together.