The historic Fruitdale school may become home to a 16-unit, multi-family property as developer Hartman Ely negotiates details on loans and grants from the city and Wheat Ridge Housing Authority.

It'll be the third proposal since 2008 for the vacant, red-brick schoolhouse at 10801 W. 44th Ave.

Designed in 1927 by famed Denver architect Temple Buell, the school was save from demolition by the housing authority when it purchasing it for $1 from the Jeffco school district in April 2011. The authority has been soliciting proposals for use since then.

Fruitdale School
The Fruitdale School in Wheat Ridge (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Last year, Mountain Phoenix Community School backed out of an agreement to convert the building into a pre-k-8 charter school.

The building will need millions of dollars in improvements to get up to code, hampering efforts to find a suitable tenant.

"It's a great building built by one of the best architects Denver has ever had," said developer Jim Hartman. "One of the other reasons we're interested is to act as an economic catalyst along 44th Avenue. This is one of the few historic properties in Wheat Ridge, and if any project could catalyze an area, it's this one."


For the $6 million project to move forward, Hartman Ely is negotiating a bridge loan of $1.9 million from the city.

Community Development director Ken Johnstone wrote in a Nov. 20 memo "that the minimum amount of local subsidy that would still be needed to keep the project moving forward [is] $640,000." The housing authority has tentatively pledged $170,000, and council is discussing funding the remaining $470,000.

Plans a call for a courtyard, rooftop solar, a community gathering spot and an orchard to be built, with 10 of the units being loft-style apartments. Five will be designated affordable housing.

Hartman Ely has renovated and redeveloped many historic buildings in Denver, including Steam Plant Lofts and Hangar 2 at Lowry.

The opportunity to bring development to a part of the city that hasn't seen new residential construction in decades is what District II Councilman Zach Urban says makes for an appealing city investment.

"The building is in terrible shape," Urban said. "The alternative is, do we tear it down and sell the vacant land? Even that comes at a cost; it's just not very viable."

Some in the community aren't happy with the plan. During a fall study session, Claudia Worth of the Wheat Ridge Historical Society said the plan does not fit with a reverter clause the original property owners wrote, which said if the land ceases to be used for educational purposes, it would be deeded back to the original estate.

"Apartments are not educational purposes..." Worth said. "Many visitors to the museum have been aghast when hearing of this issue."

Ken Johnstone said a purchase and sale agreement has been executed with Hartman Ely but there are still a number of issues to be worked out.

A timeline calls for a building permit to be issued in July, with the project completed in early 2017. City Council will be presented with an updated proposal Feb. 8.

Austin Briggs: 303-954-1729, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @abriggs

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