By BECKY KISER
The same day StonePost Lofts in the remodeled former Washington Elementary School opened for tenants, all 18 units were filled.
"We need housing. We need housing all across Kansas," according to Alissa Ice, director of housing development for Kansas Housing Resources Corp. (KHRC), Topeka.
Ice and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, were part of Tuesday's open house and Hays Chamber ribbon cutting ceremony for the new income-qualified apartment building at 305 Main.
The building itself, however, is not new. Built in 1926, the facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Washington was one of the oldest buildings owned by USD 489. The school district had determined it would be too expensive to renovate for other uses.
Hays USD 489 sold the shuttered school to Overland Property Group (OPG), Overland Park, for $500,000. OPG received federal and state tax credits for the remodeling project.
"The city, the chamber, Grow Hays, all knew it was important not to have a vacant space on Main Street," said Moran, a former Hays resident, "and to utilize this as an opportunity to fulfill a need that every community in Kansas desperately has."
Moran told the crowd he hears the need for workforce housing from city leaders across the state.
"You can walk through a manufacturing plant in every community in Kansas and the plant manager or the owner of the business will tell me 'we could expand our business, hire more people, grow our community, make more money, and contribute more to the Kansas economy, but we have no place for our workers to live.'"
A housing needs assessment was conducted in 2021 by the state's Office for Rural Prosperity. It was the first such survey in more than 30 years.
It reiterated what was already known, Ice said. Kansas needs more housing all over the state.
"We need it for all income levels."
"In this area, almost 40 percent of our renter households are cost-burdened," according to Ice. "There's a need for all types of units, along with the typical single-family home.
"These 18 affordable units in a historic building in a beautiful, accessible part of this city will start to chip away at that need," she said. "Most important, it provides affordable homes to families for at least the next 30 years."
StonePost Lofts is the fourth housing project completed in Hays by OPG.
The remodel had to follow strict guidelines due to the building's historic status.
"Every single detail has to be scrutinized to a whole new level," Matt Gillam, OPG developer said. He thanked a long list of project partners.
"Designing the development just doesn't happen like normal. You have to go through countless reviews so the smallest things have huge implications.
"[We] highlight history while being thoughtful of space for future residents."
Allen Park, former longtime principal at Washington, was happy to see most of the building's original design remained intact.
"It looks the same," Park said with a big smile on his face.
He pointed out the numbers and animals inlaid on the tile floor of the former first grade classroom, which is now one of the larger apartments.
Because the complex is full, Maralene Fry, community manager, had to get permission from several residents for tours of their apartments.
The heavy wood classroom doors, now doors to private apartments complete with bathrooms and washer/dryer combos, were propped open to allow peeks inside.
"It's a building many kids came through with laughter and learning in these halls. It sat empty for a little while, and now, laughter and learning can come back through," said Mason Ruder, Hays mayor.
"It's nice to see a building that had so much history go through it can now be another part of the growing process of the city of Hays."