Todd Schneider knew the task ahead when he decided to purchase the former Fort Madison Middle School and convert it into an apartment complex with more than three dozen units. Seven years earlier, he transformed a former Catholic school in Fort Madison into a building with 19 offices and eight apartments.
"The process was the same," said Schneider, "(so we) figured we had that process, kind of (a) trial-by-fire... and we learned that and we just applied what we learned there to this project."
The middle school project is about 80% complete. The apartments on the third floor are nearly finished while work continues on the second and first floors of the building.
Schneider showed off that progress by hosting housing leaders from throughout the tri-states region during a housing summit sponsored by the Tri-State Development Summit. He said it's important to show what can be done with historic buildings such as the former school.
"We have a tremendous business model here that I am surprised more have not picked up and ran with," said Schneider. "From a developer's point of view and from a manager's point of view, it could be very successful both ways and from the community point of view. That is all above the losing of a historic building, (so) not only are we saving that building, but we are turning it into something that will generate revenue for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years."
Schneider said structural engineers told him this building will be standing strong for decades to come because of the construction materials used when it was built in 1922 compared to the materials used today. It will also maintain the appearance of the school for people passing through the hallways.
"The lockers will all stay," said Schneider. "We had a lot of built-in cabinets. In fact, all of the built-in cabinets that were originally in the classrooms are now going to be in the apartments. The hallways will be for the most part unchanged and all of the original floors that we could save were salvaged."
Schneider said the auditorium and most of the gymnasium will remain as they are, with the possibility of finding uses for them in the near future.
The apartments will range in size from 900 to 1,700 square feet with some encompassing two former classrooms. They will be powered, for the most part, by a series of solar panels placed on the roof of the building.
Schneider said interest in the project is apparent: he already has a list of potential renters, including a few former Fort Madison Middle School teachers.
He said the biggest challenge to the project came before the first demo work began. He had to secure funding, which included a multimillion dollar grant from the state.
"That's like the iceberg in the ocean," said Schneider. "The biggest part you don't see happens under the water or before the project even starts. There's a lot of work, a lot of meetings, a lot of groundwork, a lot of financing being put together. That's a long process. I figured we had a good 12 months in before we actually got the property purchased."
Schneider said once that happened, he could get to the "easy" part: turning a nearly 100-year-old school into an apartment complex that merges modern amenities with historic flair.