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The Orphanage: Part 2 - The Future

 (Courtesy: Barry Polzin)
(Courtesy: Barry Polzin) (WLUC)
Published: Jul. 26, 2016 at 5:20 PM EDT
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"It's gonna be the exact same building, but with new walls inside ... that's basically what it's gonna be," said John Durden, project superintendent for the conversion of the Holy Family Orphanage.

It might sound simple now, but turning the former Holy Family Orphanage into an affordable housing complex has been a long time coming. It's been on architect Barry Polzin's mind since the 1980's.

"Well this project really started 30 years ago … when the Diocese sold the building, and it fell through many hands," said Polzin.

This time was different though. The key ingredient was getting the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. It's a competitive process, but in July of 2015, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA, said yes.

"It was the right combination of a developer who was willing to do it, the banks willing to finance it, MSHDA willing to give the tax credits and the National Park Service approving the restoration of the building," Polzin explained.

Polzin says three decades ago, repurposing the building would have been much simpler. Now, the construction team has their work cut out for them.

When describing what the inside of the structure looks like…

"Hell! Pretty much, I mean ... you know, American Horror Story," said Durden.

Workers say, getting the scrap out of the building is the hardest part, everything from old furniture to splintered beams and crumbled walls.

"Elevator's gonna be fun getting out too," Durden added. "It's stuck, of course... with about a couple tons of debris on top of it. So, we've got to pull that out from the roof, and demolish it."

But there's light at the end of the tunnel for what will be, the "Grandview Apartments".

"It's in remarkable condition, for what it's been through," said Polzin. "It's been so neglected. And because it was so well built, it still stands proud."

The complex will have 56 units, with a combination of one, two and three bedrooms. Because the building is now on the National Register of Historic Places, bringing back the original charm of the building is key.

"Interior-wise, we're going to preserve and restore the original corridors, kind of the common areas," said Polzin. "Plus, there's a really sweet chapel in there that we're gonna do a restoration on too."

That chapel will be renovated for community use. The public can rent the space for concerts or events. The architects must also work with all the existing windows.

"We laid out apartments to fit within; the apartments all have high ceilings," Polzin explained. "The windows are kind of over-sized for what you'd find in normal apartments. So they'll be really cool."

A common misconception about the project is that it's subsidized housing. There are a few apartments set aside for special needs residents.

"Generally, it's affordable housing, so people have to have an income to actually live here; so it isn't a giveaway," Polzin added.

After sitting vacant and uncared-for the last 30 years, rumors, especially those started by local schoolchildren, say the old orphanage already has residents...

"People talk about it... saying, 'Oh, the building has ghosts' and all that," said Polzin. "I just say, 'No, the building has a spirit.'"

Polzin says, it's that spirit that has allowed these plans to finally come to fruition.

The official groundbreaking for the project is set for Wednesday, August 17th.

At that time, some parts of the building will be open to go in and see the building in its current condition.

The first residents at Grandview Apartments are expected to move in around this time next year.

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