Later this week, Little Rock city government will start debating the future of the Woodruff Early Learning Center.
Moses Tucker Real Estate has agreed to purchase the school, and support from its neighbors could go a long way toward winning over city officials. To win over the neighbors, the developer opened up the building for a tour Monday night.
“Any community hates losing a school, and especially in the middle of a residential neighborhood like this,” said Mason Ellis, who lives nearby. “And so, it’s kind of been hard to lose that.”
Woodruff was one of four schools the Little Rock School District closed at the end of the previous school year, along with Franklin and Wilson elementaries, and the Hamilton Learning Academy. Moses Tucker submitted the winning build for the building, with a proposal to convert it into an apartment complex.
“This neighborhood is important,” explained Ray Nolan, Moses Tucker’s Vice President of Development, “to kind of link downtown with Hillcrest and some of the, University and The Heights further west. It’s also a funky, cool neighborhood with beautiful, old buildings.”
Moses Tucker plans to convert the classrooms into 38 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. Nolan said rents would begin at roughly $600/month, which would be in line with other properties in the area. There would also be a community room, which could be used for meetings or classes, and the school’s cafeteria would become a restaurant and bar.
“It’s a take on the old, which is, this community has a lot of history to it,” Ellis said of the plan, “but it’s also with a little bit of new put into it, which, we’ve got a lot of new people moving into the neighborhood, as well. So, it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
“It’s an historic building, so big hallways…the exterior, none of it can be touched,” Nolan added. “And we want to… our whole goal is to really use everything that we can in this building. I mean, it’s a schoolhouse, and that’s kind of the way we want it to stay.”
Members of the Capitol View Stifft Station Neighborhood Association have said in the past that, if Woodruff would not remain within LRSD, they did not want it to become a charter school. If it must change, Ellis said, this apartment complex is something they will be happy to have.
“We kind of hated losing a civic, a great civic function in the community like (the school),” he stated. “But getting a new life on an old building is always good, and the benefits it brings to the community.”
In a previous meeting, staff members of Little Rock’s Planning and Development office said they did not feel the apartment complex should have a restaurant and bar. Ellis thought it would be a good addition to the neighborhood, along with the public meeting space and the community pool that Moses Tucker proposed.
“That was kind of actually one thing we were concerned about,” he explained, “was this just becoming another private residence, and really, the public not being able to enjoy this historical building in the community anymore. But Moses Tucker has really worked on including public amenities in the space, so people can still come and enjoy the building, enjoy the spaces around it, but also still serve as a private residence, as well.”
At the neighborhood association meeting the followed the open house, neighbors asked that Moses Tucker also include a public playground in its designs. They also voted nearly unanimously for a resolution in favor of the project.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking at first, to know we were losing a school,” Ellis said, “but after seeing the plans and the ideas, it looks like we’ll get something good out of it.”
The Little Rock Planning Commission will take up the proposal during its next meeting, at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 12.