Developer planning to invest $5 million to convert Phelps Rd. school into apartments

Phelps Rd. School (Photo: WSET)

AMHERST Co., Va. (WSET) -- The historic school on Phelps Road in Madison Heights may be getting a new life.

The Phelps Road School has been empty, abandoned, and vandalized for nearly 30 years, but has a lot of meaning to the community as former students still live in the area.

Stewart Smith bought the property in 2014, he's been fined $2,500 for code violations because officials said he did not maintain the property as they agreed.

Amherst County approved a redevelopment Performance Agreement with a historic rehabilitation developer, Waukeshaw Development, to bring vitality to the building and community.

The Economic Development Authority of Amherst County said Waukeshaw Development will invest at least $5 million to redevelop, restore, and convert the building into 30+ market-rate apartments while "maintaining the historic character of the building."

The agreement was approved this week.

Waukeshaw also has a contract to buy the former school from Smith, with closing scheduled October 27.

"As part of the process to see if the project is financially viable, Waukeshaw will need to accomplish a variety of steps, such as getting on the state historic register, developing design and build estimates, solidifying its financing, receiving historic tax credits, applying for grants, etc.," wrote the EDA.

If those milestones are not met, the county said it can buy the building back and decide whether to demolish the building, which they've been considering for years.

If the project progresses to construction, renovation should be finished within three years.

The new building would house up to 80 residents in the apartments and create 51 new jobs, creating $6,583,839 in economic activity.

“The EDA saw this as a clear win-win for the County,” according to Calvin Kennon, EDA Chairman. “Amherst County and the EDA want to promote and encourage economic development and vitality in Amherst, especially in this area of Madison Heights that needs redevelopment. This project would be a great start by increasing economic activity, employment, and financial investment.”

Waukeshaw has redeveloped multiple properties around Virginia, including Beale’s Brewery & BBQ, and just bought Amherst Milling Company, helping convert it into a hydropowered brewery.

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