Home Sweet Housing

When the Prineville city planning commission voted to move forward with a proposal to convert a 70-year-old elementary school into affordable housing, the town was not only gaining brand new modern apartments, it was also gaining a greater commitment to community. In 2016, rental vacancies were at a near zero percent availability due to a rapidly growing community and the influx of construction workers building Facebook’s third data center in the area. Renters were struggling to find housing close to town, forcing many families to commute long distances for work or to run simple errands like attending doctors’ appointments or buying groceries.

Housing Works, the local housing authority for Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties, purchased the elementary school and surrounding property in April of 2017 from the Crook County School District for $650,000. The agency approached the project with a focused vision of repurposing the 42,000 square-foot building into 29 studio, one, two and three-bedroom apartment homes priced below market rates available to residents with incomes at or below 50% of the area median income. Project funding came from federal tax credits through Oregon Housing and Community Services and HOME funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Due to its unique funding and historic project site, this project is truly one-of-a-kind.

As the region’s largest provider of affordable housing, Housing Works strives to provide convenient and affordable housing while improving the community surrounding their projects. One of their goals is to repurpose existing buildings, rather than tear down and start over, in an effort to preserve and celebrate the character of the area. This historic school-to-multifamily affordable housing project is one of their most unique, challenging and innovative, the first of its kind in Central Oregon.

History Relished

Ochoco Elementary School opened its doors in 1945 and featured a typical school floorplan for its time with a gym, library, , high ceilings and a wall of windows in each classroom. A large boiler kept the building warm during the cold Prineville winters. Many of Prineville’s current residents attended classes in the historic school. It has truly become an icon of the community. Although the main section of the building is original, there have been several additions throughout the years. Two classroom wings were added to the building in the 1950’s, totaling 23 classrooms, to accommodate the town’s growth, and a cafeteria was built in the 1980’s.

Throughout the years, the school was used as a community hub for events like holiday bazaars, choir concerts, and sports camps. During construction, R&H crews unearthed historic memorabilia from the school’s past, including 60-year-old newspapers, a typewriter, children’s toys and a 48-star American flag. To celebrate the history of this project, the historic findings are now displayed in the halls of the supportive housing community.

As the decades passed, the school became a time capsule of another era. With the introduction and swift increase in classroom technology, the building quickly became outdated and difficult to update. Based on today’s safety standards, the location of the front doors presented security risks. Overall, the community was outgrowing the building. Able to accommodate 660 students, Prineville’s brand-new elementary school, Barnes Butte, completed construction in 2015. Ochoco Elementary School saw its classrooms filled for the last time before closing its doors in June of 2016.


Unforeseen Conditions

After meticulous collaboration between Pinnacle Architecture and R&H’s preconstruction team to bring Housing Work’s vision to life, the project broke ground on the multifamily project on August 15th, 2017. Crews quickly began demolishing sections of the interior spaces and testing materials to ensure a safe renovation. Most of the building had been built prior to 1960, so teams proceeded with caution, discovering challenges such as asbestos-wrapped piping in the attic, asbestos on a buried layer of roofing, crumbling walls and ceilings, and decades of hidden water damage.

As with many historic renovation projects, there can be a multitude of unforeseen conditions that can affect the overall scope and budget. This project was no exception. Early in the project schedule, while adding new sewer lines, crews discovered substantial water damage to the building’s floors when removing the existing numerous layers of flooring. Lack of a vapor barrier caused major water issues. After testing for moisture content and confirming the issue affected most of the building’s floors, R&H needed to research and collaborate with a specialized subcontractor to address the unique and substantial water issue. To overcome this challenge, the project team added an epoxy waterproof barrier and an additional layer of broadcast sand applied prior to laying down the new flooring. This application prevents future moisture from accessing the flooring.

This repair added five weeks of additional scope that R&H was able to absorb into the original schedule. With this challenge, R&H “dug deeper” to find that the city of Prineville has a high water table, meaning that the level at which the soil below ground begins to be permanently saturated with water is unusually high for the area. Due to this discovery, additional scope was added to revise grades in the gutter downspouts to prevent future exterior water damage. This change was not required; however, R&H worked closely with Housing Works throughout the project to address concerns like this in order to prevent future potential risks.

Close collaboration between the owner, architect, and general contractor allowed the project team to mitigate over $500,000 in change orders mostly due to unforeseen conditions, allowing tenants to move in two days earlier than the original timeline.


Revealing the Restoration

Maintaining the integrity of the existing school building was a primary concern. The 23 classrooms, library, boiler room and cafeteria were transformed into a large community room, laundry room, and 29 units that maintained the original high ceilings, large windows, and unique foot print. The overall design choices of the building focused on a balance of modern and historical elements. The bright colors, striking apartment numbers, and hopscotch patterns in the flooring are all a nod to the playful history of the space, while the warm wood-inspired plank flooring, high efficiency appliances and clean cabinetry provide a feeling of a safe the comfortable home. Each apartment includes dual entrances providing community-focused access to the wide neighborly hallway or outdoor common areas to enjoy the landscaping and play area.

As the project neared completion, Housing Works had received almost 200 qualified applications within days. All units were occupied within seven days of Housing Works releasing units to the public. In contrast, a typical apartment complex timeline for occupation is at least 30 days.

Continuing to Give

Transforming this former elementary school into affordable housing has brought life back into the Northwest side of town. This project provided the much needed additional housing within the community, and the space has become a hub for local services and activities. Crook County Parks and Recreation is leasing the gymnasium on site as a community recreation center – something Prineville did not have prior. It has opened up opportunities for indoor activities, a winter sports camp is already underway. The cafeteria space is now host to two NeighborImpact Head Start classrooms. NeighborImpact, a Central Oregon based nonprofit providing services to disadvantaged residents, will also be utilizing a portion of the land as a food bank growing area. Central Oregon nonprofit, Heart of Oregon, has taken an extra modular construction building located on the property to create its new YouthBuild office to support career and training opportunities for young people within the community. Successfully completing this project was a team collaboration between Ochoco Innovation Station, Oregon Department of Human Services, Saving Grace, Veterans Affairs, and the Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon.

Families fill the halls that once belonged to students and teachers, and prior classroom spaces house hot dinners and bedtime stories. The building, now home to a different cause, will continue to fill Prineville with happy memories for a new generation to enjoy.