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Voke School to be Apartments

1- and 2-bedroom mixed-income housing could start at $1,100

By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
 

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The former Worcester Voke building on Grove Street being considered as the site of apartments. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

WORCESTER — A Boston developer yesterday detailed plans to transform the city's century-old former vocational school to a complex of affordable and market-rate loft apartments.

  WinnDevelopment, a division of WinnCompanies, is planning a $30 million project that includes a complete renovation of the inside of the historic Grove Street building. The plans call for 84 one- and two-bedroom apartments, to be called the Voke Lofts. Half of the units will rent at market rate, while the other half will rent at discounted rates for lower-income tenants.

 

The developer plans to buy the property for $1.7 million from its current owner, the Worcester Business Development Corp., said Gilbert Winn, managing principal at WinnCompanies. The WBDC bought the school complex for $1.2 million, according to the Registry of Deeds.

Mr. Winn said the firm decided to rehabilitate the former Worcester Vocational High School after the success of another redevelopment project it did in Worcester. WinnDevelopment renovated the former Chevalier Furniture property on Water Street into apartments called Canal Lofts.

“Three months after construction was completed, we fully leased the building, and now we have a waiting list,” he said. “So clearly, there's a need in the marketplace for mixed-income housing.”

The development company is receiving $3.5 million in state housing tax credits, as well as $5 million in federal tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic properties, according to Mr. Winn.

Construction is scheduled to begin next spring and continue for 14 months.

The vocational school site was identified as a good location for housing several years ago, said Jonathan M. Weaver, project manager for the WBDC.

“We're encouraged,” he said. “This was part of the Gateway Park master plan… It identified the voke school as an ideal location for housing. We're happy to see this moving forward because it activates that area a little bit.”

Already, the redevelopment of the property has cost $1.2 million. The land was contaminated by underground petroleum tanks. Last year, crews finished remediation, which included asbestos removal and the excavation of more than 1,000 tons of contaminated soil. New Garden Park Inc., a nonprofit entity of the WBDC, received two $400,000 grants — one from the federal government and one from the state — and contributed another $400,000 to clean up the property.

As part of the cleanup, other structures that were part of the school had to be razed. “We removed those buildings, then removed the oil,” Mr. Weaver said.

The historic qualities of remaining school building make it a challenge to renovate, but also give it character. The lofts will have high ceilings, big windows and exposed brick — features that are not likely to be found in new construction. The façade of the structure will remain the same.

The project initially was intended for residents older than 55, but after considering market studies, WinnDevelopment decided to open it up to the broader population.

Asking rents for the Canal Lofts on Water Street start at about $1,000 or $1,100 a month. The Voke Lofts may cost more. “This area may even command slight premium, as much as $100,” Mr. Winn said.

Built in stages from 1909, the former school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last Updated (Thursday, 05 July 2012 10:17)