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6/24/2014 10:43:00 AM
Apartments almost ready to rent in old school building
Bruce Bennett plans to have five apartments available for rent in Williams' old school building within months, Williams Alliance for the Arts considering leasing space in building
Bruce Bennett, the owner of the old school building in Williams, Arizona stands in what will be a one-bedroom apartment. Bennett plans to have five apartments available for rent in the coming months. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Bruce Bennett, the owner of the old school building in Williams, Arizona stands in what will be a one-bedroom apartment. Bennett plans to have five apartments available for rent in the coming months. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Although plans for the Williams Center for the Arts are still up in the air, work at the old school building is still moving forward.

The old school located on Sheridan Avenue was built in 1936 and includes three stories totaling 40,000 square feet.

The Williams Alliance for the Arts, spearheaded by The Gallery's Kris Williams, hopes to turn the school into a center with live/work artist lofts, studio spaces, and classrooms for adults and children.

However, building owner Bruce Bennnett isn't waiting on the Williams Alliance for the Arts to finalize its plans and come up with funding for the project.

He's currently working on turning two wings of the building into five apartments, four two-bedroom units and one one-bedroom unit.

As of last week, Bennett was waiting for the apartments to be insulated and dry walled. The units should be finished in a couple of months. Bennett plans to rent the apartments furnished for about $800 to $850 per month.

"With these five units, they'll generate enough revenue to get the entire property in a cash flow position," he said.

Williams said she would like to market the apartments to artists, "just to start establishing it as an arts-related building."

Bennett is open to the idea.

"I don't care who gets in there as long as they can pay the rent," he said. "Ideally I hope that Williams' deal goes. If her deal doesn't happen, it's okay because I'll just keep putting apartments in the building."

If plans for the art center don't materialize, Bennett envisions putting more apartments on the top floor, which would have nice views of the surrounding area. If enough people were interested in third floor units, he would consider installing an elevator, which would cost about $120,000.

He hopes to salvage much of the wood floors in the building by sanding them down and refinishing them. Before he does any work on the floors, Bennett must put a new roof on the building, which will cost about $150,000.

Whether the old school building is ultimately converted into an arts center or an apartment complex, Bennett hopes the current construction will get the building on the road to being inhabited again.

Williams Alliance for the Arts update

In April, representatives from the nonprofit group Artspace visited Williams to complete a preliminary feasibility study for creating the Williams Center for the Arts. The group is now drafting a report of its findings, which the Alliance will use the report to pitch the project to potential funding sources.

"To put it in a nutshell they really believe that we are right on with our vision for the old school and that we have everything really that we need to make it a successful venture," Williams said. "The challenge however right now is I think one thing maintaining the momentum for the project and finding a focus on exactly what we do next."

One immediate option is for the Williams Alliance for the Arts to lease all or part of the old school building. Williams would like to start by using a few classrooms to offer art classes in the near future.

Another idea that could be carried out in the near future is creating studio space for artists.

"Most of those classrooms have three big panels of windows and you could divide them right in between so they would be like 200 square feet individual studio spaces," Williams said.

The Alliance could also offer community studio space for about $25-$35 a month.

"It would be a larger space, it would have shared equipment, and artists could rent that for a very reasonable monthly sum," she said.

Other potential uses for the building down the road include event space in the old gym, live/work and artist-in-residence spaces and arts-friendly commercial space.

One of Artspace's recommendations after their visit was for the Williams Alliance for the Arts to complete a market study. The study would identify what artists are looking for in a center for the arts, which would help Alliance members fine-tune how to use the space. Artspace could complete the study, but Williams said the Alliance members could also do it themselves through online surveys and mailings.

Artspace also suggested that the Alliance start using the building as much as possible so that residents can start seeing it as a community center. Currently, an aerobics class and a wrestling club meet in the building.

As for next steps, Williams has a conference call scheduled with Artspace representatives this week to discuss a federal rural development grant or loan program that could be a source of funding.

The Alliance will also pursue a Community Development Block Grant from the Northern Arizona Council of Governments in October.

"It typically goes to one major project as identified by the city council," Williams said. "However the city of Williams has other critical needs like water right now. It's a tough time for that, but we will pursue it."

Williams added that the Alliance needs to have a specific project in mind when asking for grant money.

With the scope of the project, Williams said developing the old school building into a Center for the Arts will take time.

"These projects usually take three to five years to come to fruition," she said. "(An Artspace representative) also said sometimes what you need to do is just get started on something and the path will open up. I think doing the classrooms and just getting started is going to help us get our focus and get something done."

The Alliance is still looking for more people to get involved with the project. Anyone interested in joining the Williams Alliance for the Arts can contact Williams at (928) 310-6287.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2014
Article comment by: Pat Smith

I for one am glad that there are going to be more housing options available in the middle of Williams. I have currently been forced to live with my kitties north of town on 64. I spend all the money I make working at McDonalds on gas, I even drive a geo metro and that doesn't seem to help. I think this Bennett guy is a good egg, he knows what the REAL citizens of Williams need! Plus, who can argue with an apartment that is furnished for $850 per month!

The thing I am personally most excited about is renting an apartment that is within walking distance to the Salty Tuna. Now I can have fun without getting another DUI.

Before I forget, thank you Mr. Bennett for making affordable housing in the same building I used to break into when I was in High School. Now I can live in a place I used to frequent illegally. I like to live my life on the wild side!

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2014
Article comment by: BBQ COWBOY

Yeee HAAWWW BBQ Cowboy!!!!!

I did see this Misty. I think apartments and an “art” space is a bad idea for the old school. When the old school closed years ago the City of Williams had an opportunity to buy the school for a $1. I believe the old school would have made an amazing city hall/ multi use community building.

Another idea would be for Heritage Elementary to purchase the building and actually make it a school again. Ultimately the decision of what to do with the building is up to Bruce. I don’t blame Bruce for wanting to make money as he has spent countless dollars renovating the building. At this point I suppose anything in this building is better than nothing….

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014
Article comment by: Keith Wilmot

Great... I feel like we've been lied to. First we're told that this is going to be an art school and that sounded like a good idea. Now we're being told the old school is going to be used for low income housing smack dab in the middle of the best single family houses in town. The place. Should have been demo'd from the beginning and maybe one house built. This will ruin the neighborhood

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Article comment by: snow harbor

What this town needs is less whiners who think the city owes them something because they live here. There are 3 low income complexes in Williams. Maybe the complainers should stop choosing a minimum wage job as a career path, and expecting handouts and everything to be given to them.

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Article comment by: Misty Circle

Yay! A new Crack House with a slight view! Did you see this BBQ Cowboy? Thank you Bruce!

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Article comment by: harbor snow

what this town needs is low income apartments for us poor people who work in your tourist traps and at the end of the season become homeless I know you want print this because Williams is a greedy town

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