Jon Atlas of Cohen-Esrey, a real estate business dedicated to providing affordable housing options, spoke to IDR about the Washington apartments. Cohen-Esrey is an Olathe based organization that has spent more than 30 years providing affordable housing in vacant, underutilized historic housing. 

Cohen-Esrey took over the Washington Elementary in 2014 and bought the building from the school board in 2014. They were awarded the tax credits in 2017 and began formal construction in May of 2018. The school closed in 2011 after 71 years of service. 

Atlas told IDR they had received their Certificate of Occupancy, meaning the units are officially available to be occupied by residents.

"There is still some work to be done," said Atlas, but told IDR the rooms in the new apartment were clean and ready to move in.

Washington Elementary was built in 1938 during the second New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt. Under the deal, both Washington and Lincoln Elementary were built. At that time in Independence, there were six elementary schools, which were consolidated to the two in 1940, according to Atlas. At the time, the building's cost to build was $137,000. Today, the cost for renovation ran $5.5 million, Atlas said.

The Washington apartments have 23 units. Each unit has a kitchen, a living area, washer and dryer unit and a bedroom. "It's exciting, the building doesn't look like most school buildings," Atlas said. "This has that cool art-deco style that's reminiscent of a short period of time, it's very cool to preserve that."

Atlas stated in the old Kindergarten room they had preserved the original fireplace. "It's not functional but it has the authentic look." Along with the preservation of historic features, the company has added an elevator for accessibility.

"The original chalkboards in the units have been restored," Atlas stated. He told IDR the chalkboards had been originally salvaged from another Washington Elementary in 1902. 

"It's really cool that we have those chalkboards that their great-great-grandparents were writing on," Atlas said. "That they were learning their alphabets on. It's neat to retain a historic part of the community and give it a new use to serve the community for many years to come."

Cohen-Esrey has properties in Fredonia, Yates Center and Independence, as well as other affordable housing options in 10 other states.