A historic convent building in Amherst will be preserved for future generations, even though the mammoth structure is destined for redevelopment.
The St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse on Mill Street was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the country's official list of properties worthy of preservation. That pleases Amherst officials, who sought to ensure that the 132,000-square-foot Collegiate Gothic-style building would not be significantly changed after the Sisters of St. Francis put it and the surrounding 100-acre property up for sale.
The motherhouse will be converted into 102 units of "affordable" senior citizen housing by CRS Properties, which plans to begin the redevelopment by March. Developer John E. "Skip" Cerio said he sought the historic designation so the project would be eligible for historic tax credits.
Nancy Mingus, chairwoman of the town's Historic Preservation Commission, said the listing on the National Register does not severely limit what the developer can do to the inside of the building as long as the integrity of the building's exterior is maintained. The historic designation is largely honorary, Mingus said.
"Still, we think it's a great idea," she said. "It's the first (building) in the Town of Amherst, outside the Village of Williamsville, to be listed on the National Register."
Cerio, who built the Hopkins Court Senior Living Community at Hopkins and North French roads, said efforts will be made to either preserve or relocate bookcases, cabinets and other extraordinary features inside the motherhouse.
"Where there are some neat things, we're going to figure out a way to use them," he said.
The motherhouse was built in 1927 for the Sisters of St. Francis as the site for their North American headquarters. It was designed to house, educate and care for up to 400 nuns. After selling the motherhouse to the town, as well as 77 acres of surrounding property for the new Amherst State Park, the sisters moved into a new motherhouse on Reist Street about two years ago.
After acquiring the motherhouse, town officials sought to have the property redeveloped for senior housing. Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said the reuse would be consistent with the goals of the sisters, who were the original inhabitants of the motherhouse.
"This is one of Amherst's most beautiful buildings, and it's one that has a lot of historical significance to the Town of Amherst," said Grelick. "The town felt strongly about the need for affordable senior housing. Having the building preserved in this way reminds us of how caring the sisters were to Amherst residents."