ALAMOSA – Over the span of its 86-year life, the stately, red brick, two-story building known as Boyd School has served the people of Alamosa very well. During the last year the school was in operation, the 2nd and 3rd grade students’ proficiency scores were in the 90 to 94 percentile, beating the state average.
The school was closed in 2011 and the building transferred ownership – while still continuing to house programs, like Early Childhood Education, that are of significant benefit to the community. But when the property went into foreclosure in recent months, the future of one of Alamosa’s most well known sites was in question.
The Early Childhood Education program was moved to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley where it presently exists.
Not unlike a hero saving the day, a local developer stepped in and bought the property to make sure it stayed in local hands. The developer had a vision of repurposing the property for affordable housing, which quickly led to several offers on the property being made. But, after being approached by several local leaders and the city of Alamosa, the group steered their attention toward working with the San Luis Valley Housing Coalition (SLVHC) whose mission and vision closely aligned with theirs.
As Dawn Melgares, executive director of SLVHC, describes it, “They agreed with our vision of what housing could and should be.”
Last week, SLVHC announced that they have received acquisition funding through the Division of Housing to purchase the Boyd School property with plans, over the next two years, to develop the building and surrounding land to accommodate renovation and construction for up to 40 living spaces.
Melgares, who had her eye on the property for a long time, is “grateful” and also very clear about the underlying philosophy that will guide the project. That philosophy can be summarized in one word.
“The outside of the building with that beautiful red brick will stay exactly as it is. That brick was made locally and provided a lot of jobs in Alamosa. It isn’t available anymore and it’s important to keep that part of the building, not just because it’s beautiful but also because of what it represents historically and economically. We also want to preserve the building because it is exactly the way we all remember the Boyd School always looking.”
Melgares’ emphasis on preservation extends beyond the property lines of Boyd School and includes looking at the neighborhood where the school is located and the community that surrounds it. “Our goal isn’t to change the community but to preserve it and build on what’s there,” she says.
That preservation also includes keeping both the community garden that is on the property and the return of the Early Childhood Education program.
The Boyd School project is bigger than what the name immediately implies and will involve incorporation of the entire city block where the school is located, including the 1.9 buildable acres that run between the community garden along State Street and the school building itself.
According to Melgares, twelve to fourteen of the proposed forty units – each with their own bathroom and kitchen – will be inside the existing building, which is a total of 36,000 square feet in size.
Although the project is still in its infancy, the plan is to keep Early Childhood Education in its current location and to create additional office space for either the SLVHC or a manager to be onsite.
Beyond that, the goal is to then renovate part of the first floor to accommodate at least two living units that are ADA compliant with the remaining ten to twelve units located on the second floor (currently unused) that will range from one to three bedrooms.
The plan is to also preserve the existing gym for use by Early Childhood Education and tenants and to construct one, possibly two, community rooms available for use by both groups or rented by outside parties. A small room that is part of the current design will also be repurposed for mediation or yoga.
In addition to the renovation inside Boyd School, the buildable land that runs between the building and the community garden will be the site for construction of up to 29 living units, bringing the total number of potential units to 40, which is allowable under the Cit of Alamosa building code.
The project is designed to be “affordable housing” which meets the needs of the community as has been defined in the extensive housing assessment recently conducted by SLVHC and is geared toward “incomes of people in the workforce and below.”
As the price of housing – both for rent and for purchase – continues to go up, an increasing number of people find themselves unable to access a place to live in Alamosa, most especially those employed in minimum wage jobs (which, locally, equates to about $26,000 per year) up to, for a single person, around $40,000. For a family of four, that figure would be in the area of $58,000.
According to Melgares, a significant number of people fall in that income, including but not limited to people employed as teachers, college professors, nurses and others.
However, true to their mission, SLVHC is not excluding accepting rental vouchers. “Our goal is to make sure everyone has somewhere to live.”
Achieving that goal is difficult in Alamosa County where it is currently estimated that 500 houses across all price ranges are needed to meet the growing demand. But the Boyd School project is an extraordinary first step as making available 40 newly renovated and constructed living units reduces that number by almost ten percent.
Ultimately, the project is estimated to cost about $15 million, and SLVHC is exploring multiple avenues to obtain necessary funding, starting with funds for the pre-development design and related environmental impact studies that are part of the process.
But, given the multitude of options available – including significant tax credits for those who invest in affordable housing – Melgares is confident the project will be completed.
In the meantime, the building known as the Boyd School seems poised to close in on its 100th birthday, still serving the people of Alamosa as has been the building’s history. And Melgares’ excitement is only growing as the possibilities get closer and closer to being fully realized.
“Every time I drive past that school, I think how gorgeous will the sunset be through those second floor windows?” she says.