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Converting former Buffalo schools into apartments, community center OK’d by Planning Board

Proposals to convert a pair of former public schools into an apartment building for workforce housing and a community center received the go-ahead from the Buffalo Planning Board on Tuesday during a marathon four-hour meeting.

Planners approved a $10.5 million proposal by Livionia HDFC and CB-Emmanuel Realty LLC to transform the former School 63 at 91 Lisbon Ave. and 120 Minnesota Ave. into the Lofts at University Heights, with 45 mixed-income rental apartments for working-class tenants.

Built in 1917, with improvements in 1925, the former Campus North School has been closed since 2007, but the adaptive reuse project would renovate the three-story, 72,435-square-foot brick building into one- and two-bedroom loft-style units. The units, which would rent for below-market rates, are designed for people earning $35,000 to $45,000 a year.

The 2.08-acre complex would also have a small community room and other tenant features, plus 59 parking spaces in a gated area accessible from Minnesota, with a separate two-way entrance from Lisbon.

“Every possible square inch of the building will be utilized for space to support the residents,” said architect Steven J. Carmina of Carmina Wood Morris DPC, which is working for developers R. Christopher Bramwell and Benathan T. Upshaw.

Inside, contractors will fill in the pool and open up the roof of the auditorium to “create an outdoor space for residents within the walls,” Carmina said. The exterior brickwork will be restored, and a new glass-enclosed entry will be added, with a low knee-wall to match the building. Plans call for breaking ground in the spring.

Nearby residents cited some concerns but said there’s widespread support. “An improved property such as this one beats an abandoned hulk of a building that is going to remain a nuisance as this has been, subject to vandalism,” said Greg Brown, a member of the Minnesota Avenue Block Club.

Also, the Planning Board backed a volunteer effort to build a new Seneca-Babcock Community Center at 82 Harrison St., on the site of the former School 26. The vacant two-story building, located just off Seneca Street, will be remediated and demolished by the city, which will sell it to the Seneca-Babcock Community Association. The volunteer group, led by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., wants to put up a new 26,000-square-foot, one-story metal panel and concrete block facility, with a full kitchen, gymnasium, theater, recording studio, fitness center, computer lab and classrooms to serve a client base that ranges from teens to seniors. The site is adjacent to a small park, with parking in between. “It’s going to be quite an improvement from some of the existing buildings in that community,” said Amber M. Holycross, project manager at Ciminelli. Officials want to start construction in the spring.

Future plans may include a medical clinic, operated with Erie County Medical Center.