An Austin-based group is poised to renovate the former Waco Independent School District alternative school building at 805 S. Eighth St., hoping to convert the structure built in 1922 into loft apartments as a companion to the West Campus Lofts recently completed next door.

A group of investors headed by Warren Hayes, owner of Hayes Modular Group Inc., will spend about $3.5 million to gut the interior of the three-story structure down to its walls and add more than 30 loft apartments while giving the exterior a fresh look that maintains its historic charm.

“A friend of mine from Dallas told me about that piece of property, and I fell in love with that building,” Hayes said. “I did a little research and discovered it was built in 1922 as a school and has been one just about ever since.”

Waco architect Milton Scott designed the building, Hayes said.

He hopes to have the project completed by August 2017, in time for occupancy by college students attending class that fall, Hayes said.

Already Hayes and his team have put their stamp on that neighborhood with the opening last August of West Campus Lofts, a 128-bed apartment complex offering up to four bedrooms and four bathrooms in a single unit and lease rates ranging from $575 to $925 a bed per month, all bills paid.

“It is about 95 percent occupied,” said Kristina Hayes, a Hayes Modular Group vice president who manages the property.

The development group received $482,769 in Tax Increment Financing Zone funds from the city of Waco to complete West Campus Lofts, and Warren Hayes estimated the investment group spent about $5.5 million on the property.

West Campus Lofts received a 2016 Award of Distinction from the Modular Building Institute, which named the complex Best of Show in the “permanent” category.

In presenting the project for consideration, Hayes Modular Group wrote, “If we wanted to develop a new 51,000-square-foot student housing project near Baylor University, we had to do so by preserving the historical significance of an adjacent Milton Scott designed structure. The challenge: Use 21st-century building techniques that focus on efficiency and connectivity and have it properly complement a local historical masterpiece that has endured the test of time through its strength of design and beauty of simplicity.”

He concluded in his application that West Campus Lofts “is a highly efficient structure that blended in practically and gracefully with the character of the century-old community.”

Now, Hayes said, he will turn his attention to the hulking, 57,000-square-foot school building hoping to duplicate the company’s success.

“We are so thrilled to have the opportunity to take somebody’s design work of nearly 100 years ago and modernize it to create a unique living experience,” Hayes said. “We definitely will maintain the interior structural integrity while restoring the exterior to how it looked in 1922.”

Today, the building, though stately, is showing its age. Plywood hides the windows.

“You would never build a building today like this one was built,” Hayes said. “You wouldn’t put in 14-foot-high ceilings, 12-to-14-inch concrete walls or 16-foot-wide corridors in a modern building. It is very strong, structurally, and its beauty is the strength of its design.”

Hayes said he bought the building, which once served as home to South Waco Junior High, from a Dallas group that had acquired it from the Waco school district. It was among several surplus properties the district has sold in recent years, this one fetching $510,000 for school coffers.

Changing neighborhood

The face of the neighborhood around West Campus Lofts has changed in the past couple of years, and Hayes said he likes what he’s seen.

Nearby, Chick-fil-A and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers have opened restaurants, soon to be joined by Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Panera Bread.

Dilapidated structures are falling near Interstate 35 on the west side of the highway, where a retail center, a sit-down restaurant and at least two hotels reportedly will take shape in the next few months, according to Bland Cromwell, a commercial real estate specialist marketing the area.

Construction has begun on a new location for McGregor-based TFNB Your Bank for Life, with an opening planned in spring or summer of 2017.

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