LITTLE FALLS - A historic building that stood vacant for more than 30 years now is being put to good use and recently was awarded a state preservation award.
The Our Lady of Angels Academy building in Little Falls - built in 1911 and run by the Franciscan Sisters of Belle Prairie as a convent and orphanage until 1968 - has been resurrected.
The Little Falls School District took over the building in '68 to use it as an alternative school until the new high school was built in 1974. Since then, the building had been vacant, becoming dilapidated over the years.
The Our Lady of Angels Academy building in Little Falls, which sat vacant for more than 30 years, was restored and now is called Riverwood Pines Apartments. The 24-unit apartment complex is located north of Little Falls, next to Holy Family Catholic Church. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The historic building was converted into a 24-unit apartment complex with the help of a $722,250 low-interest loan from the USDA Rural Development. The project also received $2.2 million in low-income housing tax credits, $650,000 in historic tax credits and $285,000 in Minnesota Housing finance Authority funding.
The building, Riverwood Pines Apartments, was designed by JLG Architects of Minneapolis. The firm maintained and enhanced the existing external appearance of the building by retaining the existing brick masonry and interior work. The interior maintained the concept of a double-loaded corridor to preserve the historic location of the interior spaces and the staircases were restored to their original state.
The building was developed and managed by Metroplains Development, LLC. The project began in January 2006 and the apartment complex saw its first renters on Dec. 28, 2006.
A sitting room for tenants at Riverwood Pines Apartments in Little Falls. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Marilyn Kapsner, Metroplains Development manager, who also manages the Buckman Apartments and Falls Manor in Little Falls, said the apartment complex filled up fast, and by the end of March, the 10 one-bedroom units and 14 two-bedroom units were occupied. The apartments are geared for low-income individuals and families of all ages. Kapsner said rent is based on 30 percent of a renter's salary.
Each rental unit, which range from 650 to 800 square feet, has a different floor design that helped preserve the historic status of the building, Kapsner said. Kapsner said the original doors of the building that weren't needed for the apartment stayed so as to preserve the history. Along those lines, the old gymnasium was converted into an underground parking lot and the stage for the theater was turned into a dining area for the tenants. The curtain still remains on stage.
The four-floor building has a community space with a kitchen and a dining and a lounging area and is handicap accessible.
Audrey Deering, who rents a two-bedroom unit, said the Riverwood Pines Apartment was the best place for her and her husband when it comes to rent and atmosphere.
"It's nice and quiet here," Deering said. "And everything is new. I have no complaints."
Laverne Schaefer moved from the Buckman Apartments to Riverwood Pines Apartments, which is located north of Little Falls near Holy Family Catholic Church in Belle Prairie Township.
"I love all the (Metroplains Development) places," Schaefer said. "But when I found out that they were renovating this building, I had to come. It's so nice and quiet here and they have everything you need. Everyone here is so friendly."
The old theater in the former Our Lady of Angels Academy building now is a dining area for tenants at Riverwood Pines Apartments in Little Falls. The curtains still remain, as do the original bricks. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Steve Wenzel, state director of USDA Rural Development, said he is proud that the USDA played a role in restoring the historic building by providing funding.
"Our rural communities need to preserve their historic buildings to maintain their history and this project was able to do that," Wenzel said. "Plus, this project serves as a public purpose, the affordable housing market, which will improve the quality of life in the Little Falls area."
Wenzel said the project is an excellent example of the public and private sectors working together.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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