Sunflower converts dormant east-side KCMO school into senior housing

The former Faxon Elementary School at 37th and Paseo in east Kansas City is now affordable “loft-style” senior living.

The former Faxon Elementary School at 37th and Paseo in east Kansas City is now affordable “loft-style” senior living.

Senior citizens on Kansas City’s east side may soon be living in a school they once attended. After sitting dormant for ten years, a former KCMO elementary school is now getting a new life. On Friday, Sunflower Development reopened the doors of the former Faxon Elementary School as the newest affordable senior housing development in the area.

Located at 37th and Paseo, the historic school is now home to 45 affordable, “loft-style” senior housing units with unique 20-foot ceilings that will rent for $530 to $630 a month.

It’s all thanks to a public-private partnership that involved numerous agencies and organizations that worked diligently over the last three years. Those partners included LISC, who provided an $800,000 pre-development loan, as well as the LCRA which approved a ten-year tax abatement on the property. The project also received federal and state low-income housing tax credits, federal historic tax credits, and a Brownfields and HOME Funds loan through the City of KCMO. Other project team members included Roseman Architects, Talifierro & Browne, Centric Projects, Sterling Bank, and Rosin Preservation.

3rd District Councilman Quinton Lucas, City Manager Troy Schulte, LISC Executive Director Stephen Samuels, 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed, Sunflower Development President Jason Swords, and Bishop Mark Tolbert.

3rd District Councilman Quinton Lucas, City Manager Troy Schulte, LISC Executive Director Stephen Samuels, 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed, Sunflower Development President Jason Swords, and Bishop Mark Tolbert.

The project has already attracted a number of potential residents. By Friday, 15 of the 46 units had been leased. We asked Mark Moberly of Sunflower Development what it took to put together a historic project like Faxon. Here’s what he said.

How did Sunflower initially get involved in this project? What compelled you to want to take on a challenging property in the east neighborhood?

“Sunflower is always on the lookout for great historic buildings that have rehab potential. Former KCMO schools typically fit the bill. Our historic preservation consultant, Elizabeth Rosin at Rosin Preservation, tipped us off that Faxon Elementary School – which at the time was owned by a private developer – was going to come back on the market, so we jumped at the opportunity. Having owned a handful of single-family properties in east KCMO, Sunflower had familiarity with the area and confidence that affordable apartment units targeted at the senior population (55 years old and better) would be successful in the area.”

Units range from $530 to $630 a month.

Units range from $530 to $630 a month.

What’s it take to assemble so many moving parts and pieces in a public-private partnership of this kind?

“Being Sunflower’s first low-income housing tax credit project, there was a learning curve to understanding the number of moving parts, especially when historic tax credits are also involved. There were a great number of public-private partnerships that came together on Faxon. Our capital stack sets a new record for Sunflower, and includes federal and state low-income housing tax credit equity, state and federal historic tax credit equity, a Brownfields loan from City of KCMO to help with the cost of environmental remediation, a HOME funds loan from City of KCMO, general partner equity and deferred development fee. Working with City staff and our tax credit investors to get to a sufficient amount of capital that is contributed at the right milestones was no small feat.”

What kind of challenges did you incur over the course of rehabbing this building? What surprises did you run into?

“Faxon School Apartments is Sunflower’s 12th historic rehab project in Kansas City, so we’re used to the normal “skeletons in the closet” that come with old buildings, and Faxon presented many of these normal challenges. Former KCMO schools such as Faxon were built with great bones and don’t present many structural challenges, which are always the big ticket change order items. Our biggest headache came with the historic windows and ensuring the 240 new windows installed in the building passed historic muster while providing a quality residential environment.”

Can you describe how you decided to splice up the building into units, the style/design of the units, square footage, and rates?

The units feature unique 20-foot ceilings.

The units feature unique 20-foot ceilings.

Former schools had great big classrooms that actually lay out nicely for one-bedroom apartment units. Working with Rosemann & Associates architectural team, who has done many school conversions, we were able to use the current classroom set-up to get most of our units, then determine what public spaces, such as the gym and auditorium, could be converted to units while still meeting historical standards. This is why part of the auditorium was converted to apartment units while the other part was maintained, the floor being used for community gathering space and the stage used as the fitness room.”

Do you think you’ll look to do another project like this in the area again?

“Yes, we will indeed look at other projects like Faxon and actually have a couple historic KCMO schools in our pipeline for conversion to apartment units in the near future. Closed down KCMO schools are typically in areas that are thirsty for redevelopment and breathing life back into these important community structures is the type of work Sunflower relishes.”