Pittsburgh Area High School Transformed Into Apartments

By Kim Shindle | Jan. 10, 2023 | 3 min. read

A Pennsylvania Realtor® bought an abandoned high school for $100,000 a few years ago, seeing potential for reuse. Jesse Wig, a member of the Realtors® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, saw a lot of possibilities for repurposing the building in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

Wig and his friend Adam Colucci, a real estate investor, debated ideas for the property for two years – considering a wedding venue, beer garden, a maker space, shared workspace and a brewery incubator. They reached out to Dan Spanovich, a full-time developer and multifamily property manager, to discuss the converting the space to residential and he became the third partner in the project.

Before view of classroom. Photo credit: Alexis Fatalsky

A Realtor® for eight years, Wig is an enthusiastic investor in his home community. Investing in property is one of the reasons he got his real estate license. He’s made real estate a full-time career and owns his company, Lifespace Real Estate, a boutique company headquartered in Pittsburgh.

When the partners began construction on the 50,000 square foot school, they optimistically hoped they would end up with 60 units. “With that much square footage, you’d think you would be able to get more units, but that wasn’t realistic with the massive hallways the school had. That space couldn’t be used for apartments,” Wig said.

Converting a former school building comes with its own unique set of challenges, not just the wide hallways. “That’s the bittersweet part about schools. They’re very well built with solid floors, so core drilling through the floors to add plumbing can be difficult,” he said. “That’s why we ended up stacking the bathrooms so we could use the area drilled for multiple units.”

The completed project has 31 apartments, 27 of which are one-bedroom units and four are two-bedroom units. The former gymnasium has been divided and has a basketball court and gym equipment, while the old auditorium has been converted to a common space with couches and TVs. They started leasing in late 2021 and were fully occupied less than a year later.

“We filled up fairly quickly and we’ve heard nothing but positive feedback,” he added.

While working to solve the potential parking space shortfall, the partners purchased another school directly across the street, which has a two-story parking garage. They’re currently renovating that space and expect it to have a few more units than the first school building, some of which they hope to have ready to lease in the first quarter of 2023.

Wig closed on an elementary school building several weeks ago and is in the midst of a building his first new construction home.

The trend of adaptive reuse of commercial properties to multifamily housing is one that the National Association of Realtors® has published several reports on, looking at vacant office buildings, hotels/motels and retail malls.

“People are more aware of the potential to convert buildings from the previous use and open to the option,” Wig said. “Sometimes it’s not the highest and best use of a building. The current costs of construction and financing are both very high so the return on our investment may not be as high.”

High school auditorium before the repurposing. Photo credit: Alexis Fatalsky

 

Auditorium converted to shared living space. Photo credit: Alexis Fatalsky

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