St. Joseph School may be converted to apartments

St. Joseph's Elementary School in Haverhill may be converted into apartments, if a developer gets the necessary approvals. 

HAVERHILL — For 129 years, many families in Haverhill who wanted their children to have a Catholic school education turned to St. Joseph School.

Then at the end of the 2017 academic year, All Saints Parish announced the school was closing due to declining enrollment.

All Saints had been running the school since 1998, when St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. George and St. Rita churches were merged into one parish.

Following the school's closure, many in the community wondered what would become of the brick building and its adjoining gymnasium and bowling alley.

Some thought it could be turned into housing; others that it would be a good, larger location for the Boys & Girls Club; and still others thought it could become an adult day care center or possibly a charter school.

Now a developer who has been involved in other projects in Haverhill is proposing to convert the old school into 36 apartments. He will go before the Board of Appeals on Wednesday evening to seek waivers to the city's zoning laws.

Jonathan Cody of Ipswich, who operates Atlantis Investments LLC, said he is looking to create 28 studio apartments and eight one-bedroom apartments, all priced at market rate, to be located in the school building on Broadway.

The adjoining building facing Broadway, which houses a gymnasium and 10-lane candlepin bowling alley, will not become apartments, he said.

"We hope to rent the gym to a local nonprofit, but we have not decided what to do with the bowling alley," he said.

Cody, 37, is seeking a variance to create 39 parking spaces where 54 are required, and a bowling parking variance for 20 spaces where 40 are required.

He is also seeking a variance to develop housing on a lot area of 40,560 square feet, where 145,000 square feet is required by current zoning.

Additionally he will need a variance to create open space of 11.7 percent where 35 percent is required.

"If you had a brand new piece of land, you'd have to set aside 35 percent as open space in a RH zone, but this is an existing building so he doesn't have the option to do that," William Pillsbury, the city's economic and planning director, said.

Pillsbury explained that if Cody obtains his variances, his next step would be to file a petition with the City Council for a special permit, which is a zoning requirement for multi-family housing.

"It would then get referred to the Planning Board, which would make a recommendation back to the council, which would then have a public hearing on the special permit," Pillsbury said.

He noted that Cody's proposal is the first to be presented to the city in regard to redeveloping the St. Joseph School building.

"It's an opportunity to bring back a vacant building to a useful purpose, which is a positive investment for the city," Pillsbury said.

To create enough parking, Cody said he plans to use the playground and basketball area behind the school, which will also include four handicap spaces. There will also be parking in front of the school, similar to when St. Joseph was in operation.

Cody is no stranger to Haverhill. He owns the former Italian American Credit Union in Lafayette Square, which has offices he rents to Vinfen, a social services agency. And he owns a 15-unit apartment building next door.

He also is renovating a building behind City Hall. In December of 2018, the City Council approved the sale of a city-owned building at 20 Newcomb St., behind City Hall, to Cody, who is transforming it into 13 studio apartments, also called efficiency units, for clients of Vinfen.

The white, three-story structure served as a group home for recovering addicts for many years. Since the previous tenant left, homeless people had been breaking into the building, according to city officials.

"That should be completed in two months and Vinfen will be leasing it from me to house people with disabilities," Cody said.

As for the St. Joseph building, Cody said he plans to keep the exterior of it similar to how it looks now, "only it will look a lot nicer."

"We'll try to retain many of its old features, such as its wide hallways and wooden floors and staircases, so that it continues to feel like a school inside," he said. "This school had a big impact on the city so I'm happy to help maintain its charm and its memory."

He said that if he gains all the necessary approvals, he could begin renovations by the end of the year.

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