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School on Buffalo’s East Side approved for women’s housing project

The Buffalo Planning Board on Monday evening approved a plan to turn a vacant school into low-income permanent housing for homeless women.

The former School 57 at 243 Sears St. will be converted into 27 apartments for women or women with children who are living in temporary shelters. The project is being done by the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center.

Constructed in 1912, the brick-and-steel-frame three-story school, with a two-story addition for an auditorium and gym, has been vacant since it closed in 2003. Plans call for upgrading the windows to put in more historic aluminum-clad wood frames, while recreating a cornice around the top. Workers will also clean the bricks, put in new doors, and insert a three-story addition in the courtyard for handicapped accessibility.

The $10.25 million project involves converting the classrooms and other parts of the main building into a mixture of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, while the rest of the complex will house services such as a food pantry, a community health clinic, a soup kitchen and a full-service kitchen and dining area that would be used as a restaurant to provide job training for residents and an amenity for the neighborhood.

The services would be run by the Urban Center’s Hope House program, which would also relocate its operations from 385 Paderewski Drive to the new building. Residents would also be offered case management, counseling, referrals for additional services, assistance in locating permanent housing, benefits advocacy, job training, employment counseling, budgeting skills, meals and clothing.

“The project has wide-based community support,” said Urban Center Executive Director Marlies Wesolowski. “The whole idea is to create a campus feel with our building and the school, to have the women feel more a part of the community.”

The Urban Center currently operates an emergency shelter as part of Hope House, but it’s full, and women can stay there for only 30 days. “We don’t have anything permanent for them right now, so this fills that need,” Wesolowski said. “This is the next step for these ladies, who through no fault of their own have become homeless. They can stay there as long as they want.”

Meanwhile, the Planning Board tabled a separate project by PUSH-Buffalo and subsidiary Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Co. to convert the former School 77 at 420 Plymouth Avenue into 30 senior housing units on the upper two floors, with first-floor commercial space for PUSH and other nonprofit use. The three-story building, vacant since 2007, would have 26 one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom apartments, while the first floor tenants would also include a theater company and a nonprofit community group.

“This is an opportunity to take a building that isn’t being used and provide living space for people in our community that can no longer afford the high rents and high housing fees coming around with all the development,” said Edwin Padilla, director of operations for PUSH, and at one time a student at the school in grades 4 through 7. “This will give them a wonderful place to live.”

Board members endorsed the project, but it requires a zoning change before it could be approved.