Former students and other community members came together on Dec. 8 to celebrate a new beginning for the former Versailles Elementary School building. AU Associates, Inc., hosted the gathering at Versailles School Apartments, which will provide affordable housing to 13 families in downtown Versailles. "I wanted to welcome you today to the grand opening celebration of this marvelous school, which is now finding new life as apartments," said Holly Wiedemann, president and founder of AU Associates. Her company oversaw the redevelopment of classrooms in a historic school building - constructed in 1939 - into one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and will now manage the property. Former Kentucky first lady Elizabeth "Libby" Jones, who contacted Wiedemann about making this adaptive reuse project a reality, thanked schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins and the Woodford County Board of Education for allowing this project happen. "This is an amazing morning. This is a hallelujah morning that finds us all on this spot to celebrate a truly remarkable accomplishment," said Jones. Hawkins explained that the school district found itself in a quandary about two years ago. It owned a school building no longer needed for educational purposes, he said. That's when Jones came to a school board meeting with the option of selling the property to AU Associates in order to explore an adaptive reuse, which Hawkins described as "a win for our community because we were able to keep a very historic building intact." During her remarks, Jones said the iconic schoolhouse holds "a large part of your personal history." Rosemary (Cox) Johnson, like so many others attending last week's celebration, said she was just happy to know the Versailles Elementary School wasn't torn down "because (that building) has so many memories for so many of us," she said. Johnson, 72, and her mom were both students at Versailles Elementary. She brought her own class photos, and later saw a photo of her mom's class on the wall in a hallway of Versailles School Apartments. As she got her first look at her former school, Edith (Brown) Hatton - Johnson's 86-year-old aunt - talked about how much she enjoyed being a student at Versailles Elementary. Her memories go back to 1936 when she was five years old starting first-grade in an original portion of the school building. Atta Tom (Waits) Payton was a student in first grade when the new Versailles Elementary School opened its doors in 1939. She brought a photo of her class to the celebration and open house at Versailles School Apartments. "I've come to see what the building looks like," Payton said. From what she had already seen, her school building looked a lot better today than it did a few years ago when it housed the school district's Community Education Center and alternative school, she said. "I'm going to look at everything before I leave here," said Payton, who later shared her first-grade class photo with a member of AU's property management team. "The main thing is they saved the school," said Brenda Poole, another former Versailles Elementary student. School board members Margie Cleveland and Debbie Edelen, who also attended the grand opening celebration, shared the feelings of former students about being able to preserve a school building with so many memories. "This is pure joy. It's just pure joy," said Cleveland. "It's gorgeous. The rooms are gorgeous. It's a beautiful place to live." "This is just a wonderful day," added Edelen. "This is one of those times where everything just came together." Affordable housing tax credits provide financing for projects like Versailles School Apartments, said Rob Ellis, deputy executive director of the Kentucky Housing Corporation. He said affordable housing remains a critical need in communities like Versailles. "It's a perfect spot for affordable housing," said Johan Graham, director of development for AU Associates. "As we know, affordable doesn't mean (housing) should be lacking in quality or lacking in substance . We want to build some places where we'd all want to live." AU Associates has overseen more than 30 adaptive reuse projects since its first project: Midway School Apartments two decades ago. "We really like to revitalize communities, and take vacant and abandoned buildings and adaptively reuse them," said Wiedemann, during an interview after participating in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Versailles School Apartments. She told those attending last week's celebration that historic photographs of students and classrooms offer a window into each building's past life as a school.
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