Riverview Senior Living, a rehabilitated primary school in the Highlands, is set to open in the spring

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The conversion of a former primary school in the Highlands into affordable housing for the elderly is expected to be completed by spring.

Riverview Senior Living — a nod to the district’s Riverview Elementary School, which operated for most of the 1900s — will offer 31 one- and two-bedroom apartments for people 62 and older. It is on the corner of 11th and California avenues in Harrison.

It fills a growing need in Allegheny County, where nearly 20 percent of the 1.25 million residents are 65 or older, according to U.S. Census data. The county is second in the nation after Palm Beach County, Florida for its senior population.

Lance Chimka, county director of economic development, said the Riverview project will provide high-quality affordable housing in a park-like setting. He said it’s also a great adaptive reuse of a historic building.

“It will bring stability to this residential community by repurposing the vacant building,” Chimka said.

Renters will qualify if they earn less than 60% of the region’s median income, which would equate to about $38,940. Allegheny County’s median income is about $64,900, according to the most recent census data.

“Keeping the Riverview name is very meaningful to longtime residents and former students of Harrison,” Township Commissioner Chuck Dizard said. “The facility will provide a safe and secure living environment for seniors in the region. It has been beautifully restored and will perpetuate the nostalgia, while being an important and valuable investment in the township’s quality of life.

The cost of the project is approximately $10 million. This was made possible through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, established in 1986 as a federal grant that provides tax credits to developers in exchange for building or rehabilitating affordable housing.

“We have a huge waiting list,” said Andy Haines, vice president of Gatesburg Road Development, which has overseen eight similar projects across the state. “There are about 400 people who have expressed interest.”

Construction began in late 2020 and doors are expected to open in April. Rather than raze the nearly century-old building, developers gutted and renovated it.

A three story addition will double its original size.

“We’ll be full by June,” Haines said.

Covid-related delays added about three months to the project. Poole Anderson Construction, a sister company to Gatesburg, has a crew of approximately 100 people on site each day.

Riverview Elementary operated from 1925 to 1980. It then housed the district’s administrative offices before being sold in 2014 to a small group of local investors who hoped to turn it into an assisted living facility.

“Three other guys and I bought it from the school district, but once we got into it, it was a lot more complicated than we thought,” Harrison resident John Barch said.

A graduate from the Highlands, he recalled the old Riverview Primary School as “the building that offered workshop classes in the basement”.

“We were really happy that the developer was able to pick up the slack and come up with this accommodation,” he said. “It’s the best thing that could have happened for the region.”

In Riverview, Haines said residents can expect amenities including a fitness room, a part-time support services coordinator, health screenings and a community kitchen for events like a big Thanksgiving dinner.

For many, watching the workers bring new life to the building has been exhilarating.

Cynthia Adams is a retired teacher from the Highlands whose first teaching assignment was at Riverview 51 years ago.

“I just think it’s a wonderful thing,” she said.

Adams said she recalled her first day at Riverview being greeted by 37 students in her freshman class.

She said the whole school collaborated on a jungle-themed hallway painting that helped teach young students the alphabet through bright and cheerful sketches.

“It’s the one thing I’ll never forget,” Adams said. “It brought such joy to young children.”

An avid walker, Adams said she passed the project daily on early morning walks and said it rarely failed to spark nostalgia.

“The windows are still there and I can still see my classroom,” she said. “It will be someone’s new home, an opportunity for families.

“I’m glad they didn’t leave it empty, and I’m glad they didn’t shave it. This will help so many people.

Low-income housing tax credits remain a primary vehicle for producing new affordable seniors’ units across the county, Chimka said.

The county plans to continue partnering with public and private developers to increase accessibility to affordable housing for seniors and families, he said.

Other retirement homes recently opened with the help of tax credits include the 52-unit Emerald Hills Retirement Residence on Saltsburg Road in Penn Hills. There is also the 60-unit Dorchester in Mount Lebanon.

Tawnya Panizzi is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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