Construction under way at former William Byrd

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Construction is now under way at the former William Byrd High School, which will be ready for occupancy in 2018.

Looking for a well-priced apartment close to the greenway, with both historic and sentimental value, easy access to downtown Vinton, and with a bird’s eye view of community events such as the Dogwood Festival?

Look no further. Although it is difficult to ascertain from the exterior, construction is now under way at the former William Byrd High School. Demolition is complete. Apartments are being framed up.

The property is being redeveloped by Waukeshaw Developers based in Petersburg, Va. According to its website, “Waukeshaw seeks out interesting, game-changing projects in challenging locales, often working closely with municipalities to further their economic development efforts.”

The school was built in 1930 then vacated in 2010 and sat empty except for surplus school equipment stored there.

“This building was beaming with historical integrity and had boundless potential, so we purchased it in 2017,” said Waukeshaw President Dave McCormack. It has been placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Apartments are now being framed in at the former William Byrd, which is being re-developed by Waukeshaw Developers.

With assistance from Roanoke County, the Roanoke Economic Development Authority, and historic tax credits, the former school will be renovated into approximately 85 market-rate apartments. Plans are for the project to be completed in 2018 with a total investment of $12 million.

McCormack said they will announce the name of the new apartments this spring. There will both one and two-bedroom apartments, the exact mix is now being determined. Square footage will vary with 15 different unit types available.

One unique aspect of the design is that in the gymnasium area, there will be three levels of stacked apartments, utilizing the space of the gym and the locker rooms beneath.

There will be 10 apartments in the old “woodshop” building below the main building—no patio apartments per se—but several will have individual access and parking.

McCormack said they expect to lease to a diverse group of tenants, but they expect their target clientele will most likely be renters in their late 20s or early 30s in age—some singles, but also empty-nesters, those making life changes, or downsizing. The developers expect to lease to people with varying incomes, but they will have high credit standards.

The rent for the Byrd apartments will begin in the $900 to $1,000 range.

There will be three levels of parking—on the upper level where the parking lot is now located, between the main building and what was the woodshop, and then on the lower level. The stairway that extends from the lower building to the field below will be maintained.

McCormack said the fields will remain as sports fields; the Dogwood Festival will still be held there; and the greenway will be nearby at the edge of the field next to the stream as a new phase is completed.

“The greenway is a really nice amenity for anyone living in Vinton, and the fact that the building is so close to it, I expect that will make a difference when we are telling the story of the building to prospective tenants,” McCormack said.

During demolition some unique and unexpected architectural aspects of the building were uncovered and will be utilized in the design of the building.

“There are a lot of old ‘school’ features— the old speakers, fixtures, shelving, and things like that,” said McCormack. “We will retain as many chalkboards as we can. The terrazzo is in great shape, too.”

Historic components such as door, window, and wall trim, radiators, chalkboards, and lockers have been salvaged and stored off-site until needed.

In order to qualify for historic tax credits, certain features of the building had to be retained, such as the original auditorium. McCormack plans for the auditorium to be utilized as a community space that can be leased for concerts, programs, and special events and to community groups.

The spacious choir and band rooms located beneath the auditorium space will be converted into apartments.

The original windows in the former high school must be retained to meet historic tax credit requirements, but Waukeshaw may install interior storm windows for heat/cooling efficiency. This is unlike the Roland E. Cook Lofts in that windows there had been replaced over time after the original construction, so developers were allowed to return to the originals.

Haase Inc. from Petersburg is the general contractor for the project.  McCormack said that local subcontractors are being hired currently as well.

“While it is unusual that a group from Vinton might have the capacity to take on subcontracting jobs of this size, we are hiring from the greater Roanoke area as much as possible,” he said.

McCormack was recently the guest of the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce at a “Lunch and Learn” session and emphasized to the local business leaders the considerable impact he expects the redevelopment project to have on the town.

“Because it is such a big project, and so prominent, we hope it will have a catalyzing effect on development in town,” said McCormack. “It would be exciting to see more restaurants and other developments come up in the area.”

Chamber President Justin Davison said, “With the close proximity to downtown Vinton and all the revitalization taking place there, the new apartments are going to be a great addition. I love that there will be such a great amenity as the greenway being so close. I am excited about the new tenants being able to enjoy our revitalized downtown and hopefully check out all our great events we have planned for 2018. We are lucky to have such a great developer working on the project.”

“This project is going to bring a whole new element to downtown Vinton as well as the whole area,” said Chamber Executive Director Angie Chewning. “This, along with Roland E Cook, has brought life to old, unoccupied buildings which means bringing new life to our town. More people equals more business, and that can only benefit us all.  I am so excited about the things to come in our town; things are changing almost daily. It is so exciting to watch our little town finally bloom.”