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By Lindsay Machak, Multifamily Executive, July 16, 2014

A building that once catered to a Milwaukee community’s youth has been brought back to life to house seniors.
Gorman & Company recently transformed a former middle school into 68 affordable units of senior housing in a $14.466 million renovation.

The school was originally built in 1926 as Peckham Junior High and was renamed Jackie Robinson Middle School to serve children in the Sherman Park neighborhood. The school closed in 2005 as enrollment declined. Ted Matkom, senior development manager and general counsel for Oregon, Wis.-based Gorman, says the project was part of a larger initiative with Milwaukee Pubic Schools to repurpose schools that had closed.

“We did the senior housing on the land and then subdivided the North side of the parcel to be for the sale of single family homes,” he says.

The adaptive-reuse project, now named Sherman Park Commons, allows residents to stay close to their families and friends who live in the neighborhood. Some residents were even students at the school once upon a time. Many of the original lockers were worked into the new design and some units feature original chalkboards from the school.

“Someone always has memories,” Matkom says. “Those people love the warmth of the hardwood and it reminds them of the glory days of the 50s and 60s.”

Artwork throughout the building is focused on remembering the history of the neighborhood and the significance of the school and includes murals, photo cutouts, and collages that highlight the historical significance of the neighborhood.

The senior living facility is situated on a five-acre triangular plot at a well-traveled intersection and was covered with worn metal fencing and asphalt when the building was purchased in 2009.

To connect the residents with the surrounding community, gardens were also planned into the development. The garden had 28 raised beds installed by a local initiative, the Victory Garden Initiative. All of the plots were accounted for this spring with the hopes of supplying residents and the surrounding neighborhood with fresh, local produce, Matkom says.

The community, which was completed in July 2012 and opened in May 2013, is currently 100 percent leased.