Courtesy of TogetherNewHaven

The City of New Haven has chosen Pennrose to redevelop the Horace H. Strong School in Fair Haven after 12 years of closure. The site will be converted into 58 affordable housing units and a multi-purpose arts space. 

On Nov. 2, the city revealed their developer selection, which followed the recommendation of a committee composed of community members and representatives from New Haven’s city planning, economic development and housing divisions. 

“The City of New Haven is excited to begin this redevelopment and renovation project with Pennrose to deliver more affordable housing to the Fair Haven community,” said Mayor Justin Elicker in a press release. “The project’s added focus on creating community arts spaces will also help highlight the artistic contributions of residents and the cultural vibrancy that truly defines Fair Haven.”

Pennrose, a development firm known for LGBTQ-friendly and affordable housing, will transform the former Horace H. Strong School into 58 multifamily housing units and a community arts and culture space. 

Pennrose aims to ensure accessibility in the space through collaboration with the New Haven Pride Center, which provides educational and social support to members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“When we say it’s LGBTQ friendly, we’re saying that everyone who lives here should be friendly,” said Karmen Cheung ’13, Pennrose developer and Strong School project manager. 

“And if you’re not, then it might not be the place for you.”

For all 58 new units, rents will be set at prices that are affordable for households making between 30 and 80 percent of the area’s median income. According to the press release, all but 10 of these units will be “deeply affordable,” and targeted towards those making between 30 and 60 percent of the area’s median income. 

The estimated total cost of the project is $25 million, which will be funded in part through the Low Income Housing Tax Credits program, a federal subsidy managed by the state that allows developers to sell federal tax credits to private investors. Additional funding sources include historic tax credits and private financing, according to Cheung. 

Built in 1908, the former Strong School building held the first centralized public school in New Haven, according to Ward 14 alder Sarah Miller ’03, who represents Fair Haven. It has since undergone four major renovations but ultimately remained an educational institution until 2010. 

Pennrose has a record of transforming historic schools into affordable housing. Most recently, the company renovated two schools in Massachusetts with similar importance and was awarded the 2022 Affordable Housing Finance Magazine Reader’s Choice Award for their work.

Charlie Adams, Vice President of Pennrose Development, sees history as a key aspect of the refurbishment process.

“It’s really about historic preservation of the building and making sure that the asset remains as a historic asset for the neighborhood for the next hundred years,” Adams said.

Cheung echoed this sentiment, noting that these historic buildings often hold personal significance to community members.

“We have people saying, ‘I used to go to school here,’ or ‘I used to teach here,’” she said. “From a sustainability standpoint, it’s a waste to knock down an old building. It’s also sad from a cultural, neighborhood-asset perspective, to knock down something that had served the community for one hundred years.”

This project comes 12 years after the initial closure of the Strong School in 2010. Although the school was relocated to Southern Connecticut State University in 2016, the original building on 69 Grand Ave. in Fair Haven was left vacant. Over the years, it has served as an overflow school for New Haven Public Schools and a COVID-19 drive-through testing site. 

Residents of Fair Haven have pushed to repurpose 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 artistic spaces.

“I think we want to show that it’s possible for neighborhoods to drive their own development and do it in a way that meets the needs of people who already lived there,” said Miller. “We want to bring in new people, but not in a way that pushes out the people who are there now.”

Pennrose aims to begin construction in one year with a projected completion date of 2025. The company will provide quarterly updates to the neighborhood during Fair Haven Community Management Team meetings, which began on Thursday, Nov. 3.

The original Strong School burned down on Jan. 27, 1914 in a forenoon flame, prompting the construction of the building that stands today.

Correction, Nov. 14: A previous version of this article said that Pennrose Management Company was chosen for this project. In fact, Pennrose Management is the affiliated property manager of Pennrose, not a development company. The article has been updated to reflect this.

AVA SAYLOR
Ava Saylor serves as an editor for WKND and covers education and youth services. She is a junior in Ezra Stiles College majoring in political science and education studies.
HANNAH KOTLER