'It's been a waste of space': Former MPS middle school transformed into housing for seniors

NOW: ’It’s been a waste of space’: Former MPS middle school transformed into housing for seniors

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The sounds of life have come back to a nearly century-old Milwaukee middle school that's sat vacant for more than 15 years. It's re-opening with a new use to the community. 

Thomas A. Edison Middle School got its start at the corner of Custer and 36th street in 1924, but MPS closed it in 2008. Now, with the structure in its centennial year, final touches are being made to fill the hallways with the sounds of laughter once again.

"We just got our certificate of occupancy today. Yay. So, we're all celebrating it," said Ted Matkom, Wisconsin Market President of Gorman & Company.

"It was closed for so long. It's such a hub in this neighborhood. So many people have ties to it," recalled Milwaukee Alderwoman Andrea Pratt.

Gorman & Company purchased the former school and pushed hard to redevelop the property, sourcing tax credits, and enterprising the entire design and construction. In the end the project cost upwards of $28 million.

"The nice thing about historic development is that you're not building a new four-story building that somebody can't like. This has been here since 1925. So, if you just make it look nice, it's gonna shine, which I think it does," said Matkom.

Matkom walked us around Edison's spacious hallways, where they've turned 63 former classrooms into 63 one-and-two-bedroom units.

"The great thing about it is it has that feel and charm of the school, but it has all the amenities of a modern-day apartment," said Matkom.

"This basement apartment used to be a locker room. And this is it all done, complete with new walk-in closets, washers and dryers, kitchen appliances and central air, but the apartments keep some of the old," Matkom said as we toured a lower-level apartment. "The Terrazel floors are all being reused. The wood floors are all being reused," he said.

The units are meant to be affordable housing for seniors, age 55 and up.

"And we size all of the rents to 30% of the person's income," Matkom said. "If you make $50,000, your rent will be $15,000 out of that $50,000."

Several of the seniors moving in know the building well. They attended Edison Middle School and should recognize parts that have been saved.

"We had to save you know the original entrance to the classroom and the original door," said Matkom.

The nearly 100-year-old building is on the state's historic registry. Edison's historic charm is evident in every hallway. Even some of the lockers will still be here when seniors move in.

"The lockers are not useable, they're all locked, but per historic standards we had to save them to give you that school flavor," Matkom said.

There are two gymnasiums and an auditorium too. Matkom says funding prevented them from bringing those up to code. So, developers had to seal them off from public use.

Ray Gerbensky, construction superintendent with Gorman & Company, showed us memorabilia that's being stored in the auditorium for now. They include remnants of Edison's mascot, the Knights.

Authentic cast-iron radiators still stand sturdy throughout the building that still has units available for rent.

"What's amazing about these historic buildings that Milwaukee Public Schools built is they're architecturally significant. They're built like a fortress, so they're gonna stand for decades," said Matkom.

Those who live nearby say they're thrilled to see it all come together.

"It's been a waste of space honestly just since it's such a large building and nothing going on, so it's pretty good to see them actually doing something with it," said Jeremy Wheeler, a neighbor who leaves near the old school building.

"To go back to this motto where we're going to see people walking in and out and living their life and enjoying this new rediscovered space, it's a great thing," said Alderwoman Pratt.



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