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Old Paris High School Graduating to Senior Housing

Paul Ruff looked around the dimly lit main entrance inside the old Paris High School, looking at the staircase that led generations of teenagers to class.

”There’s been a lot of foot traffic up and down that stairway and these halls,” said Ruff, Paris’s city administrator and 1966 PHS alum.

The hallways fell quiet last fall when students moved to a new campus, but preliminary steps are underway to bring the 108-year-old building a second life.

Springfield, Ill.-based Laborers’ Home Development Corp. has approached the city — which owns the property — with plans to re-purpose the main building as senior housing. The developer is a non-profit affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union.

Called Tiger Senior Apartments — a homage to the school’s mascot — the 42-unit building would be geared to people ages 62 and over, said Mike Goetz, who’s overseeing the project.

Hard construction costs are estimated between $7.5-8 million, he said. The firm is applying for tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority to help finance the project.

Goetz said they hope to purchase the building by the first or second quarter of 2017 and begin rehabilitating the block-long Main Street landmark that summer. Worn Jerabek Wiltse, of Chicago, is the architect.

Ernie Eveland Gym and the vocational classroom building on the campus are not included and will remain in the city’s hands.

Events are held in the 1940s-era gym and a couple rooms in the vocational building are rented. The rest of the vocational building is used for storage and another possible project is in the works, but Ruff said it’s too early to discuss specifics.

In restoring the main building, the timing was right, Ruff said. The city took over the entire property when the new Paris Cooperative High School opened on East 1200th Road in August.

Ruff said the city had been working to find new uses for the main building. “It has too much of a presence in the downtown area to be allowed to just deteriorate,” he said.

Laborers’ Home Development had noticed the building in the past. The firm also developed the 92-unit Maple Ridge Apartments near Paris Community Hospital.

Goetz said they were attracted to the former school’s downtown locale and close proximity to local amenities.

”It’s a very beautiful building, so I doubt we’ll make any significant changes to the exterior structure,” he said.

The building has been deemed a local historic landmark by the Paris City Council, accepting a recommendation from the city’s historic preservation committee.

On a recent afternoon, Ruff grabbed a set of keys and made the short walk from his office to the school. Unlocking an enormous gate, he walked between the school buildings and opened a door to the old cafeteria.

Ruff flipped on the lights, bathing the room in bright orange. One of the walls was emblazoned with a tiger and paw. A clock hung permanently frozen at 1:54. The roll-up window in the food serving line was open, offering a glimpse of the kitchen area.

The tour continued up a staircase leading to the main entrance. Not far from the main doors sat the cavernous library.

”I’ve learned more about this building going through this process than I knew even I was a student,” Ruff said, after walking back to the main entrance.

Across the street at Paris Carnegie Public Library, director Teresa Pennington has noticed the students’ absence. Since the final bell rang, she said it’s been a quiet year downtown. 

The library and local businesses operated on the school’s schedule and parking was often a premium. Library staff hung the athletic schedules on the bulletin board to avoid programming conflicts.

”To a certain extent, the high school was the center of activity,” Pennington said.

A 1975 PHS graduate, Pennington said plans for the apartments sounded wonderful.

”It’s a beautiful building, and having a chance to have it active and a part of the community again seems like a win-win situation,” she said. 

By Nick Hedrick Tribune-Star Paris, Ill.

Reporter Nick Hedrick can be reached at 812-231-4232 orThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Nick on Twitter @TribStarNick.

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