Every once in awhile we win one. The last time I photographed Kage School, I figured it was only a matter of time before the cracked walls would come tumbling down, taking with it a progressive school that educated area children for 112 years. Then, I saw a small notice in the paper that Rick Hetzel had bought the property and was going to rehab it.
Fred Lynch shot a photo gallery of the early stages on March 24, 2014. (He’s a real photographer who has to answer to an editor, so he went to the trouble of lighting the interior. I just wing it with available light.)
Will be used as rental apartment
When I got into town, one of my first stops was at the school, where I was lucky enough to run into Rick, who said he was turning it into a rental apartment. I was glad to hear that it was going to be used for an actual purpose instead of becoming a gift shop or mini-museum. Rick is going to keep as many of the original fixtures and furnishings as possible, he said.
He reminded me a bit of Chad Hartle, who took the old Schultz School and turned it into Schultz Senior Apartments, a textbook case of turning a white elephant into something the community can be proud of.
Kage School photo gallery
Here are photographs I shot on April 2 and May 2 of the work in progress and the men doing it. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images.
Developer Chad Hartle is sitting in the main lobby area. The walls are covered with murals depicting the history of the school. They are rich with illustrations and photos from the school paper, yearbook and local papers.
Reading through the names gives you a great feel for the continuity in a small town. I recognized the names of grandfathers, fathers and my generation of students. We, of course, have become fathers and grandfathers ourselves. We all are part of an unbroken chain.
Informal meeting areas scattered around
It’s easy to find a place to sit and talk with visitors or other residents. Small, informal seating areas are all over the public areas.
Locker space turned into displays
In order to preserve the original look of the school, the width of the hallways was preserved, along with original doors, transoms and flooring. Chad tried to collect vintage items that reflected the after-school clubs and activities through the years and display them in the spaces where lockers had been located.
Some of the trophies came from a safe that school had acquired from the Sturdivant Bank after it failed.
Shuffleboard court preserved
The original shuffleboard court is as shiny as the day it was installed.
Well-equipped exercise room
There’s a good-sized exercise room with modern equipment. The room also has comfortable seating for residents who would rather relax and visit instead of working out.
Family room for visiting children
There’s a room set aside with small chairs, toys and electronic games for residents who have small children visiting them.
Apartments are bright, energy efficient
On a day when I brought my mother by to check the place out, we struck up a conversation with two women in the parking lot. Evelyn Seabaugh was kind enough to give a couple of strangers a tour of her apartment.
We were knocked out by how bright and cheerful the place was. Chad replaced the windows from the 1960s with energy efficient ones that more closely resemble the ones from the 1915-era.
Each apartment has a washer, dryer and full kitchen. Ceiling fans circulate the air. The 13-foot ceilings make the apartments easy to cool in the summer. Chad said utility bills were running around $50 a month on average for the coldest months of last winter.
Apartments are unique
Bill Mansel is a model train enthusiast. Almost every square inch of his one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor is occupied by train memorabilia.Bill said he was the third resident to move into the complex.
There are 45 apartments in the building, split fairly evenly between one and two-bedroom units.
Cameras and alarms provide security
All of the doors are kept locked and are equipped with keypads for security. There are cameras monitoring all of the hallways and public areas. There was some discussion about allowing residents to monitor the security cameras, turning the apartment building into a virtual “Crime Watch Neighborhood.”
I heard some talk, also, about letting residents start a community garden on what used to be the school’s playgrounds. I don’t know if either of those plans will ever come to pass.
The cool fire escape is gone
Several readers reminisced, some more fondly than others, about the curving tube-like fire escapes on the old school. They no longer exist.
The top floor with the old lobby going to the balcony of the auditorium has been cleaned up, but is unfinished at this point.
Floors have rich color
The floors leading to the old balcony lobby have been refinished.
Safe from Sturdivant bank
When Chad bought the school, there was an old bank vault from the Sturdivant Bank in a storage room on the ground floor. After he drilled the lock, something that convinced him that he didn’t have a future in bank robbery, he found old school plans and sports trophies that are now on display in the hallways.
The walls in the room were covered with the names of many of my classmates. I ran a piece earlier where I posted the photos of all the names and asked if anyone could identify where they were taken.
The Schultz Senior apartments are a real boost to the neighborhood and to the community at large. In a time when so many of Cape’s landmarks are being bulldozed, it’s good to see this one saved. It could have gone the way of these schools:
Marla Mills, Executive Director of Old Town Cape, wrote, “One of the most difficult challenges a community can face is the dilemma posed by a white elephant – a big, empty, deteriorating building that no knows what to do with. It was not so long ago that Cape Girardeau was faced with a building that could have easily become a white elephant.
Central High School, located in Cape Girardeau’s downtown area, was used as the public high school from its construction in 1915 until 1953 when the new Central High School was built on Caruthers Ave. The original high school building continued to be used as a public school, initially as a junior high. In 1964 it became a seventh grade center and was renamed in honor of Louis J. Schultz, an educator who served the public school system for 36 years working in the building as a teacher, a principal, and superintendent. Most recently portions of the building were used for alternative education until its closure in 2008 when the building showed evidence of deferred maintenance.”
A true neighborhood school
You can see from this aerial photo taken in November that Central High School was truly a neighborhood school where a substantial number of its students were within walking distance. (Click on the photo to make it larger.)
Schultz School saw many changes
Marla explained that “the 1915 Central High School had undergone many changes to meet growing school needs. A 1919 arts wing and a 1942 shop wing were added.
“In 1964, major alterations updated the facility, replacing the original sash windows with banks of aluminum awning windows and reworked doorways with commercial aluminum framing. The original hallway wainscoting with its simple wood cap was replaced with simple 4×4 off-white glazed tiles, the doorways to the upper level of the gymnasium from the main hallway were blocked up, numerous additional lockers added, and the stairways reworked, replacing the original wood wainscoting and railings with a modern small tile mosaic half wall and aluminum railings. Some of the stairways were enclosed with complete walls.
An additional stairway was built between the 1915 and 1919 wings, and in 1991, an elevator was added, making the building handicap accessible. [That addition covered up half of the original 1914 cornerstone.]
School District sold Schultz School in 2008
By 2007, the school district had determined that the building had outlived its usefulness and would cost too much to rehabilitate and renovate.
That’s where local developer Chad Hartle stepped in. He worked to get the school listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once that happened, it allowed him to seek state and federal rehabilitation tax credits and housing tax credits.
He bought the building in August 2008 for just under two million dollars. To make the project work, he had to figure out how to provide affordable senior housing, preserve the original character of the building through historic preservation and to do it in a way that made economic sense.
Hartle preserved Cape’s heritage
From Marla: “But Chad did more than just save a building… he helped preserve Cape Girardeau’s heritage. With the project completed, the building still illustrates its original use – a school—even as it successfully accommodates its new use—senior housing.
“The current historic rehab project removed most of the 1964 alterations. The 4×4 tile was removed, the wood wainscot cap reconstructed in the hallways and stairways and the openings to the upper level of the gymnasium were reopened. The staircases were reopened and the wood cap railings reinstalled.
“The 1964 staircase was eliminated to create a larger elevator lobby. Classrooms were converted into individual apartment units. The original width of the hallways has been retained, along with original doors, transoms and flooring.
“And to help achieve an “old school” feeling and association, the 1960s windows were removed and replaced with windows similar to the original 1915-era windows. Even the space where the lockers were in the hallway has been retained to preserve the look and feel of the old high school.
“In addition to the rehab work, Chad made an effort to incorporate the history of the school and the community in the interior design. He incorporated murals depicting a time line and other memorabilia that gives visitors and occupants a true sense of what happened within the walls of the old school. All this is incorporated into completely modern, up-to-date and energy efficient apartments.
Preservation of Heritage Award
Old Town Cape awarded Chad the Preservation of Heritage Award for his work on Schultz Senior Apartments. In making the award, Marla noted that this isn’t an annual award. “In fact, it has only been presented three times before: in 2004 for the Marquette Towers project, in 2006 for The Southeast Missourian project and in 2008 for the River Campus Project.”
We’ll go inside the Schultz Senior Apartments tomorrow. Be prepared to be impressed.The apartments are first-rate and the public areas make you feel like you’re in a museum. It’s one of the nicest apartment buildings I’ve been in.