Yet another proposal for new student housing was brought before a city body Wednesday as the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association considered plans to convert a church-owned school building on West Johnson Street into student apartments.
The Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association addressed plans to make changes to the Holy Redeemer School building, located next to the Holy Redeemer Parish. According to Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association Chair Gene Devitt, the Madison Catholic Diocese and the Cathedral Parish initially proposed the idea to use the building for student housing.
The architecture company behind the project asked the association to consider the growing gap in housing options currently available to students.
“There is a tremendous need for housing,” Stephen Mar-Pol, Insite Consulting Architects spokesperson, said. “This is an opportunity to bring that housing to a building that is basically in a dormant state.”
According to Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, Catholic students at University of Wisconsin are the target tenants for the project, particularly those who are members of St. Paul’s University Catholic Center.
While housing laws prevent landlords from discriminating against potential tenants, Verveer said the building would function similarly to the Pres House apartments on East Campus Mall. The Pres House is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, but is open to all students, he said.
According to Mark Landgraf, Landgraf Construction Inc. president, the school has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1892 and served as a school until 1965. The building is currently registered with the Historic Landmarks Commission, Landgraf said.
The developers were careful to make sure sure the plans respected the original design of the building, and the current plans take the building and bring it back to life, Mar-Pol said.
According to Landgraf, the current plans for the school involve gutting the whole interior of the building. Community members at the meeting expressed concern about using the whole building because it would eliminate the possibility of community use.
Since 1965, the building has served a variety of different uses, according to Devitt. The auditorium on the top floor is important because it serves as a meeting space for the Holy Redeemer Parish, he said. The problem with many churches downtown is lack of auditorium space because it is expensive to build, he added.
“If they used that school and closed down the auditorium on the top floor you’d have limited meeting space,” Devitt said. “[The Holy Redeemer Parish] would start cutting out parish functions like weddings and first communions.”
Devitt cited Bethel Church, just a few blocks away from the school, as an example of the essential functions of auditoriums. They want two auditoriums because they think it is essential to keep the church alive, he said.
Four or five years ago plans surfaced to build an apartment building in the parking lot between the church and the school, Devitt said. However, the neighborhood and the parish got together and decided not to allow it, he added.
Devitt said the association supports additional housing developments as long as they are properly put in.
“There’s nothing wrong with students, there are certain places for filling stations,” Devitt said. “Apartment buildings are a bad thing on church lots.”
The restoration is slated to begin in mid-June, if the proposed changes are approved, according to Landgraf.