Senior housing slated for old Lawrence school building

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A local affordable housing developer has been given approval by the city of Indianapolis to convert the old Lawrence Central High School building on East 46th Street into senior housing.

Plans for Whitsett Group LLC’s $6.5 million project call for 60 units in the aging structure that the Lawrence Township school district converted into an operations center.

The 52,620-square-foot building was built in 1923.

Whitsett purchased the building from the school corporation after submitting a winning bid. The three bids submitted to the school corporation all proposed senior housing for the building. The amount of winning bid was unavailable Friday morning.

The city’s Metropolitan Development Commission granted approval Wednesday, but not after a Lawrence city councilor and a neighbor of the old school building raised objections to the developer’s plans.

They argued that Lawrence already has enough senior and affordable housing, and that the neighborhood could be better served if another use could be found for the building.

“It seems like Lawrence is always the catchall for all the crap, so to speak, that comes in—the car lots, the tattoo parlors,” councilor Dave Parnell said. “And to add another senior community when we have vacancies in senior communities already, it seems like a waste of a facility to me.”

Joe Whitsett assured the commission that the project would not include Section 8 low-income housing.

To finance the project, Whitsett Group plans to apply for federal tax credits allocated by the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority. The credits are only distributed once a year and the deadline to apply is Nov. 1. Any delay in the project’s approval would jeopardize the developer’s chance to apply for the credits this year, Whitsett said.

The Lawrence City Council, by a 5-4 vote, earlier this month voted to support Whitsett Group’s rezoning request and is set to give final approval Oct. 15.

The project has the support of the Lawrence Mayor Dean Jessup.

“This apartment complex makes sense,” said Keith Johnson, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff. “We think the developer will do a nice job. It’s a good use for a vacant school building.”

Whitsett Group plans to keep the old high school’s front façade and side walls, and new construction will complement the original structure’s design, Whitsett said. He plans to apply to have the building placed on the Indiana Register of Historic Sites and Structures.

Whitsett Group is a veteran affordable housing developer and is working on several projects in the city.

Chief among them are high-profile projects that would replace the demolished Keystone Towers at Allisonville Road and Fall Creek Parkway, and Winona Hospital at 3295 N. Illinois Street. The towers and hospital were demolished by the city over the past 13 months.

At the Keystone Towers site, Whitsett plans to build as many as 140 apartments in a $22.5 million project called The Point on Fall Creek. The hospital is to be replaced with the $6.5 million, 50-unit Illinois Place apartments.

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