Ex-school might become housing for single parents

By Charlie White
The Courier-Journal


A local organization wants to purchase the boarded-up J. Stoddard Johnston Elementary School from the University of Louisville Foundation and convert it into apartments for low-income, single parents attending college.

Cathe Dykstra, president and chief executive of Family Scholar House, said her organization expects to know by next month whether it will receive tax-credit funding through the Kentucky Housing Corp. to renovate the building at 2301 Bradley Ave. in the St. Joseph neighborhood.

The project, including construction, is expected to cost $11.3million. That includes renovating the existing structure and building an addition onto the building to allow for more housing space, she said.

Family Scholar House, which provides life-skills training and housing, currently has 637 area families on a waiting list for housing. Some of the parents it serves attend U of L, while others are students at other area colleges, Dykstra said.
The organization envisions 57 apartments more than double the 23 proposed by the university when it began looking for a developer to convert it into apartments specifically for married U of L students in 2008.

A previous developer was unable to get financing for the project during the recent economic crunch, university officials said.
University spokesman Mark Hebert confirmed that Family Scholar House currently is holding an option to purchase the building, a contract that's contingent on the organization securing financing. Hebert said the organization's plan is a use that would be in line with UofL's mission.

The school closed in 1980, and neighbors have waited since then for something permanent to be done with the building, which was built about 1900 and is assessed at $220,000, according to Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator records.

But St. Joseph's Area Association president Gail Linville said she's reserving judgment on the latest plan until she sees more details on how the building would be converted into apartments.

I can't say good, bad or otherwise about the project until it's more of a done deal, said Linville, 62, who's lived her entire life in the neighborhood.

The school was named for J. Stoddard Johnston, who served as Kentucky's secretary of state from 1875 to 1879, was later an associate editor of The Courier-Journal and is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

After the school closed, it served for a short time as a day-care center for the children of U of L staff members and students. Linville said the building, which has been boarded up for about two decades, has a strong sentimental value to her.
I've had at least 63 of my family members go through that school, she said.
Linville believes student housing is a viable use for the property, but she would like to see the building remain without being added onto.

Family Scholar House officials met with Linville and other neighborhood leaders in April to let them know about their initial plan, and Dykstra anticipates meeting with them again within 45 days after they secure financing.

Founded as Project Women in 1995, the Scholar House program has helped find housing and provided life-skills training for hundreds of single parents and their children. Most parents are single mothers.

In 2008, Louisville Scholar House began taking in families at a 56-unit development near U of L's Belknap Campus at Fifth and Lee streets. Last March, the organization also announced a $10million plan to build 54 apartments at First and Breckinridge streets called Downtown Scholar House. Construction on that project is under way and the first residents are expected to move there in January, Dykstra said.

The apartment complexes include subsidized housing, with rent covered by federal housing vouchers. Tax credits are often sold to investors for cash to build low-income housing.

Reporter Charlie White can be reached at (502) 582-4653.