Old Milwaukee schools to become affordable housing

Old, surplus Milwaukee Public Schools buildings are playing a role in filling a significant need for affordable housing in Milwaukee.

Built in 1928 as North Milwaukee High School and shuttered in 2008, the only kind of activity in the building's halls have been playing host to police and fire training exercises.

Old school books, desks and artwork are the remnants and reminders of the old Edison Middle School in the Old North Milwaukee neighborhood.

What Ted Matkom sees in the buildings' dust-covered desks and buckled-wood gymnasium floor is potential.

"All of the schools that Gorman has done in Milwaukee have been extremely successful in terms of a lease-up and demand," said Matkom, Gorman's Wisconsin market president.

The City of Milwaukee recently decided to move forward with Gorman's plans to turn the old high school into new, affordable family housing -- 64 one and two-bedroom apartments.

"They've proven they know how to do this," Milwaukee Alderman Ashanti Hamilton said.

Matkom highlighted the historic features of the old buildings, like the auditorium. Gorman's plans to incorporate elements of the old school into redevelopment, including adding new, three-bedroom townhomes around the property.

Gorman's has been behind similar adaptive reuse of unused surplus school buildings in the city, including Jackie Robinson School near 37th and Fond du Lac. The group is also involved in an ongoing veteran family housing project at McKinley near 20th and Vliet.

Like those projects, the estimated $15 million Edison project will be funded in part through federal and state historic and housing tax credits to cut down on costs and keep rents low.

One and two-bedroom units range from around $650 to $800 per month. The three-bedroom townhomes would sit around $950 per month.

While redeveloping old schools, like Edison, provides affordable housing options, it also keeps a neighborhood's historic anchor where it belongs.

"The other reason we like schools is that it doesn't change the character of the neighborhood," Matkom said. "Have this amazing architectural piece that's in the middle of a neighborhood, I don't have to change it at all."

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It may still be a while before new life is brought to the old school. Work is now being done to secure the financing and tax credits needed to close on the building's purchase from the city late next year.

After that, construction could take about a year to complete.

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