Transformation continues at historic William Byrd

PHOTO BY DEBBIE ADAMS
The former William Byrd High School is being preserved and transformed into 84 market rate apartments.
The old gymnasium space is being converted into 20 apartments on two levels.

Progress continues on renovations at the former William Byrd High School on Highland Avenue in Vinton.

Developer Dave McCormack, president of Waukeshaw Development that has taken on the project, said he anticipates leasing will begin just after the first of the year, with occupancy in the fall of 2019. The utilities are in place. There is new roofing, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. Each apartment will have its own HVAC unit

. Drywall is up in many apartments. In the gymnasium area, apartments are being framed in on two stacked levels for a total of 20 apartments in that area alone.

There will be 84 “market rate” apartments in the entire complex. As to why the developers decided to make use of the gymnasium space in that fashion, McCormack said, “In an attempt to create an efficient, financeable scenario, we always try to maximize the leasable space. This is always really hard to do in a school building, but this configuration helped with that. We have done this often, so we try to replicate some of the successes we’ve had over the years in this regard.” There are stairs in the gym leading up to the second level of apartments. In some cases, two units on the upper level will share a staircase.

McCormack said there is no average square footage per apartment— “we are simply using the space available to us in each area, but I would say most are around 700 square feet.” Apartments are being framed up in the lower annex as well and in the former choir and bandroom on the lower level of the main building where the floor has been raised. The auditorium will remain as is to qualify for historic tax credits, although seats were temporarily moved to allow work on the ceiling. The renovated building will not have an elevator but with so many entrance level apartments is completely compliant according to the building code and ADA requirements.

A preliminary parking site plan has been developed and work on the upper level parking lot is currently underway. The ratio is about 1.5 spaces per apartment unit. There will be spaces on the terraced lot below (down the steps) as well.

The project was initially estimated to cost about $12 million. Demolition and construction began in July 2017. McCormack estimated at that time that construction would take about 18 months to complete.

“The town is pleased with the quality of work and progress to date at the former WBHS project,” said Assistant Town Manager and Economic Development Director Pete Peters. “To see that once-proud structure being restored is very satisfying. Some changes have been subtle, while others create a ‘wow’ moment.”

Waukeshaw Development is based in Petersburg, Va., and focuses on adaptive reuse and historic tax credit projects. “The developer has been slightly delayed with his original target time-line for opening, although delays within the construction world are to be expected,” Peters said.

“Given that in this project’s case of updating a building that large, while also balancing the historic preservation component, you’re bound to run into unforeseen obstacles with design and constructability. “Getting to know Dave McCormack a little over the past year or two, it’s my impression that is what he enjoys the most about these older buildings and why he seeks out projects such as this one,” Peters said. “He has commented to me several times that while they expect certain conditions to exist, occasionally they expose certain hidden design elements while under construction and must adapt to incorporate.”

The William Byrd building was constructed in 1930 and was used as an educational and vocational training facility until 2010. The building stood vacant and served as a storage building for surplus school equipment for several years until the property was acquired by Waukeshaw. The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors conveyed the property to Waukeshaw Development in May 2017 through an agreement which also involved cooperation from the Roanoke County Economic Development Authority.

The main building occupies 62,760 square feet. The adjoining annex building adds another 6,980 square feet. The board acquired the property through a conveyance from the Roanoke County School Board in August 2013. The project was subsequently approved for historic tax credits and placed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry and the National Register of Historic Places. The Roanoke County agreement with Waukeshaw allowed for the sale of the property for $10 and an economic development grant in an amount equal to 10 years of new local tax revenue to be reimbursed to Waukeshaw— not exceeding $1 million over 10 years. The Town of Vinton also provided a financial incentive capped at $30,000 over 10 years.

When acquiring the property, McCormack, “Waukeshaw seeks out interesting, gamechanging projects in challenging locales, often working closely with municipalities to further their economic development efforts.” Look for more updated renovation photos on The Vinton Messenger Facebook page.

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