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Charter school may take over rest of former Herron Art Institute

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The city three years ago chose a mix of residential and educational uses for the former campus of the Herron Art Institute at 16th and Pennsylvania streets.

A newly formed charter school called Herron High School would take the museum building that fronts 16th Street and eventually expand into the administrative building behind. Meanwhile, local builder and developer Minkis Homes would transform the adjacent Fessler Building into seven condos, build seven new live-work units next door, and sell three single-family home sites.

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Click here to tour Herron High School and find out about plans for the next phase.

Herron High School opened with 100 students in 2006 and has grown every year; it had to bring in two modular classroom units this year to accommodate a class of 450 students.

But the residential side of the project stalled as the housing market plummeted and recession set in. So now, officials at Herron are in talks with Minkis about buying it out, and using the entire campus for the high school.

The school hopes to participate in a bond program enabled by the federal stimulus to buy the Minkis properties including an abandoned foundation where the live-work units were supposed to sit, said Joanna Taft, who chairs the Herron High School board.

“If you come to our school, every room is used all the time,” Taft said. “There’s no room for a meeting, no cafeteria space or space to gather.”

For convocations, children walk across the street to the Harrison Center for the Arts. PE class is held on the front lawn.

The school at 1701 N. Pennsylvania St. now occupies the 30,000-square-foot Museum Building. It plans to use the two modular units while it renovates the 19,000-square-foot structure behind the Museum Building known as the Main Building. The old RCA Dome roof now covers the building to protect it from the elements as the school raises $3 million for renovation.

The residential side of the project had been slated for completion by spring 2008. The units sold well, at first. Minkis started construction after it lined up buyers for three of the live-work units.

Workers poured a foundation for the units, which were set to resemble the iconic Douglas Pointe Lofts Minkis had developed at Delaware and 24th streets. But as the housing market turned, the promised buyers all backed out, said Chris Palladino, the former director of neighborhood development for locally based Mansur Real Estate Services.

Mansur partnered with the school and Minkis to put together the winning proposal for reuse of the Herron site. (It sold the residential part to Minkis and donat

ed the school buildings to the high school, so the group could start with equity.) Palladino has since taken a job in the Office of Business Affairs at Ball State University.

An expansion of Herron High School in place of the residences makes sense for the neighborhood, Palladino said.

“Herron High School has performed exceptionally well and is in need of more space,” he said. “Everyone was pretty sensitive for finding a good use for these buildings, that’s good for the neighborhood and responsive to the market. Hopefully, it’ll be seen as a win-win for everyone.”

Officials at Minkis did not return a phone message. The company’s Web site still lists units in the project, known as Herron Square, as available for sale. That includes single-family home sites at 1702, 1704 and 1706 N. Talbott St.

A big concern for the school is the hazard posed by the exposed foundation for the live-work units, Taft said.

“We need to take care of that,” she said. “If we can find a way to [buy the whole site], we’re willing to do it. We don’t want to be in the modular business. That’s not very good for a school in a historic district.”•

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