A vacant former Catholic school in Buffalo's Valley neighborhood reopened Thursday as a new mixed-use development with apartments and a new office for the Western New York Land Conservancy, after Savarino Cos. completed its conversion of the former St. Clare Catholic School.
The developer spent $1.6 million to transform the 15,376-square-foot stone school at 169 Elk St. into the new McDermott Lofts, named for the Rev. Eugene McDermott, who founded the church next door, which was originally called St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church when it opened in 1875.
Designed by Abstract Architecture, the four-story facility includes 11 market-rate residential apartments and a modern industrial-style commercial office space on the first floor for the nonprofit environmental organization. It includes a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, in seven layouts, with sizes ranging from 530 square feet to 1,200 square feet.
Built in 1896, the school building was part of the larger St. Clare Parish, which included a church with a rectory, and is located at the intersection with Euclid Place, near the Niagara Thruway interchange with Smith Street. It's a rare example of an existing school that was built before 1900, and its mostly stone facade features narrow-slit windows and a cylindrical tower topped by a conical dome.
Originally St. Stephen, the church complex was renamed Shrine of St. Jude in 1991, then changed back to St. Stephen four years later, and then renamed as the St. Clare Parish in 2007 after the Catholic Diocese merged five parishes. The school closed in 1970 but the building was used as support space for parish functions and activities for the church until St. Clare's closed in 2016.
Savarino bought the school building in March 2017 for $200,000 and launched his redevelopment, which was approved by the city and funded with state and federal historic tax credits, as well as a loan from Bank of Akron.
Work included "painstakingly" restoring or replacing the historic windows, retaining classroom shapes that were then turned into apartments, and incorporating the hardwood floors and barrel ceiling of a former gymnasium on the top floor into the apartments and tenant activity space. Chalkboards were reused, framed with reclaimed hardwood, and mounted in each unit and in common areas. Aside from the windows, no major changes were made to the exterior.
The Land Conservancy, a regional nonprofit land trust formed to preserve land for future generations as part of Western New York's landscape and character, is working in the area to transform the dormant DL&W rail corridor into a multi-use trail and greenway connecting the Buffalo River and downtown. Officials said the new office, which features a chalk mural by MJ Meyers, will help the organization work more closely with the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Opening our new office in McDermott Lofts near the DL&W corridor will help us get to know our neighbors – the people who live and work in these vibrant communities along the Buffalo River,” said Nancy Smith, executive director of the Land Conservancy. “Many of our employees now live and work in Buffalo. When you can bike to work, decreasing your carbon footprint is not only an environmentally friendly thing to do, it is also good for your health and really fun.”