The long-vacant Horace H. Strong School in Fair Haven will be renovated by Pennrose Management Company into a collection of affordable housing units with community arts and cultural spaces.
Ava Saylor and Hannah Kotler
Staff Journalist and Contributing Journalist
Courtesy of TogetherNewHaven
The City of New Haven chose Pennrose Management Company to redevelop Horace H. Strong School in Fair Haven after 12 years of closure. The site will be converted into 58 affordable housing units and a multipurpose arts space.
On Nov. 2, the city revealed its selection of developers, which followed the recommendation of a committee made up of community members and representatives from New Haven’s planning, economic development, and housing divisions.
“The City of New Haven is thrilled to begin this redevelopment and renovation project with Pennrose to provide more affordable housing for the Fair Haven community,” Mayor Justin Elicker said in a news release. “The project’s focus on creating community arts spaces will also help to showcase residents’ artistic contributions and the cultural vibrancy that truly defines Fair Haven.
Pennrose, a development company known for its affordable and LGBTQ-friendly housing, will transform the former Horace H. Strong School into 58 multi-family homes and an arts and culture community space.
Pennrose aims to ensure accessibility in the space through a collaboration with the New Haven Pride Center, which provides educational and social support to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“When we say this is LGBTQ friendly, we’re saying everyone who lives here should be friendly,” said Karmen Cheung ’13, Pennrose Developer and Strong School Project Manager.
“And if you’re not, then this might not be the place for you.”
For the 58 new units, rents will be set at affordable prices for households earning between 30 and 80% of the region’s median income. According to the press release, all but 10 of these units will be “deeply affordable” and targeted at those earning between 30 and 60 percent of the region’s median income.
The total estimated cost of the project is $25 million, which will be funded in part by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, a state-run federal grant which allows promoters to sell federal tax credits to private investors. Additional funding sources include historic tax credits and private funding, according to Cheung.
Built in 1908, the former Strong School building housed New Haven’s first centralized public school, according to Ward 14 alder Sarah Miller ’03, who represents Fair Haven. It has since undergone four major renovations but ultimately remained an educational facility until 2010.
Pennrose has a reputation for turning historic schools into affordable housing. Most recently, the company renovated two Massachusetts schools of similar significance and received Affordable Housing Finance magazine’s 2022 Readers’ Choice Award for its work.
Charlie Adams, vice president of Pennrose Development, sees history as a key aspect of the renovation process.
“It’s really about the historic preservation of the building and making sure the asset remains a historic asset to the neighborhood for the next hundred years,” Adams said.
Cheung echoed that sentiment, noting that these historic buildings often hold personal significance to community members.
“We have people who say, ‘I used to go to school here’ or ‘I used to teach here,'” she said. “From a sustainability point of view, it’s a waste to demolish an old building. It’s also sad from a cultural perspective, from a neighborhood asset perspective, to bring down something that has served the community for a hundred years.
This project comes 12 years after the original closure of the Strong School in 2010. Although the school was moved at Southern Connecticut State University in 2016, the original building at 69 Grand Ave. in Fair Haven remained vacant. Over the years, it has served as an overflow school for New Haven Public Schools and a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site.
Fair Haven residents have lobbied to reuse the building as a communal gathering place since its closure, according to Miller. The project aims to accomplish this through its open-concept architecture and shared art spaces.
“I think we want to show that it’s possible for neighborhoods to drive their own development and to do so in a way that meets the needs of the people who were already living there,” Miller said. “We want to bring in new people, but not in a way that kicks out the people who are there now.”
Pennrose aims to begin construction within a year with an expected completion date of 2025. The company will provide quarterly updates to the neighborhood during Fair Haven’s Community Management Team meetings, which began Thursday, November 3. .
The original Strong’s School burned down on January 27, 1914 in a morning flame, prompting the construction of the building that stands today.