Local, county and state officials are lauding news released Friday that an adaptive-use project in Mount Union is receiving $2.4 million in federal funds through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
The funds support the conversion of the former Mount Union Elementary School, at 10 W. Market St., into an apartment complex for older residents. The project is under the direction of an Ohio firm which estimates a total project cost of $13 million.
“I’m very happy to hear that,” council member Gary Kuklo said when informed the project was approved for the $2.4 million boost.
Kuklo said himself, the code enforcement officer and other borough officials have been in regular communication with the project’s developer, Trey Barbour of MVAH Partners LLC, to stay current with the proposal’s progress.
“This will be a great project for Mount Union Borough,” Kuklo said. “There’s no loss here — there’s renovating an old building thus keeping a historical asset and bringing financial gain to the borough. This is a win all around. I can’t think of a down side.”
The school opened in 1924 and was closed after the new Mount Union-Kistler building opened in 2001. The school district used the structure for various purposes until 2014 when it sold the building and grounds at auction for $1,000.
Jim Lettiere, director of the Huntingdon County Planning and Development Department, said he’s been doing his part to support MVAH’s efforts by lobbying PHFA to allocate funds to the project.
Lettiere said the housing project is significant for several reasons but most importantly because it addresses a specific housing need created by the devastating fire at the Blair House Apartments in Huntingdon in May 2020.
“We lost the Blair apartments which had 100 units of affordable rental units,” Lettiere said.
Lettiere also pointed out that the PHFA funds show a continued interest at the state level to invest in Mount Union. He said when communicating with PHFA, he stressed that the borough was recently the subject of a $2.5 million multi-modal project that included a series of renovations along Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of the borough.
In addition, Lettiere said the school project is a solid example of how to bring new life to old buildings.
“This project is a good adaptive reuse of a school building into multi-family housing,” he said, adding the PHFA announcement is “really good news to hear.”
State Rep. Rich Irvin applauded Friday’s announcement.
“I got a first-hand look at the project and met with the developer, who I have full confidence in to do a great job renovating this building, which has been unoccupied for more than two decades,” Irvin said.
He continued: “The shortage of affordable housing is believed to cost the American economy about $2 trillion a year in lower wages and productivity. I support this statewide investment in rejuvenating Pennsylvania, especially as we continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
State Sen. Judy Ward also expressed her approval of PHFA’s decision to award funds to the MVAH project.
“As vice chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, one of my priorities is to ensure that all residents in my district and across the commonwealth have a decent place to live,” said Ward. “Mount Union Senior Lofts will provide high quality and much-needed affordable housing to low-income seniors while adding to the momentum of the exciting community efforts already underway.”
MVAH, based in the Cincinnati-area, specializes in developing multi-family housing complexes much like the project proposed in Mount Union where older existing structures are repurposed to meet housing demands.
Once complete, MVAH’s Mount Union project will include two floors totaling 33 one-bedroom units and 11 two-bedroom units, plus a community room, laundry facilities, mailroom and fitness center.
Barbour, speaking at a conditional-use hearing in Mount Union last November, said the project will preserve the building’s original brick façade and will include the construction of a new wing.
According to the governor’s office, the Mount Union project is one of 37 multifamily housing development receiving funds through an effort to create nearly 2,000 total rental units statewide. The majority of the rental units will be available for low-income Pennsylvania residents. The projects are federally funded through Low Income Housing Tax Credits, PennHOMES funding and National Housing Trust Funds.
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