Plans underway to redevelop former Holy Redeemer school building Print
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The former Holy Redeemer School building is located to the left of Holy Redeemer Church on Johnson St. in downtown Madison. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)

MADISON -- Plans are being made for the redevelopment of the run-down Holy Redeemer School building located next to Holy Redeemer Church at 120 W. Johnson St. into student housing.

According to Msgr. Kevin Holmes, pastor of the Cathedral Parish of St. Raphael, the purposed building would be designed especially to serve students involved at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center.

“This would allow us to keep the building, use it to serve the mission of the larger Church, and benefit from an income stream that will support the life of the parish,” said Monsignor Holmes.

Holy Redeemer Parish was merged with St. Raphael and St. Patrick Parishes in 2008 to form the Cathedral Parish. At the time of the merger, the school building failed to meet current codes in every respect, Monsignor Holmes noted. “Any substantial attempt to improve the building would require a complete (and very expensive) renovation,” he said.

Built in 1892, the building was used as an elementary school until 1965, when a declining population of children in Holy Redeemer Parish caused it to close.

Starting about 1970, the building was rented to the Diocese of Madison and used as office space for the Departments of Catholic Schools, Religious Education, Youth Ministry, and Family Ministry. To accommodate that use, a cosmetic modernization was done: ceilings were dropped, some walls added, and carpeting installed.

Fallen into disrepair

In 1998, all diocesan offices were consolidated at the former Holy Name Seminary. By that time, the third floor (auditorium) and basement of the Holy Redeemer School had been unused for many years and had fallen into disrepair.

After the departure of the diocesan offices, the two main floors of the building were used for other purposes. Half the first floor was rented to Pregnancy Helpline for its Sharing Center. The remainder of the main floors began to be used for catechetical classes for the adults and children of the growing Hispanic community.

In 2007, Bishop Robert C. Morlino announced his intention to build a new cathedral on the site of old St. Raphael on W. Main St. The construction there would certainly also include new parish facilities to the extent that space and finances allow.

In 2011, the parish reacquired the former St. Raphael School, giving the parish additional room at the new site.

The best use of the land and buildings at the Holy Redeemer and St. Patrick sites will become an urgent question as plans for new buildings at the cathedral site are developed.

“The hope had been that the parish could look comprehensively at all the property and the buildings at our three sites to design a master plan to serve the mission of the parish and the larger Church as effectively as possible,” said Monsignor Holmes. “And in the meantime, the intention was to make no large investments that would end up being wasted.”

Roof fails

The plan was thus to maintain the status quo pending strategic planning. But one weak link in that plan was the roof of the Holy Redeemer School building.

The roof was past due for replacement. For a number of years, it has been patched. Some of the Ganser family (Ganser Exteriors) are members of the parish, so the parish had cooperation from highly skilled roofers to do this as well as possible.

But in the heavy rains this past autumn, the old roof failed. The Gansers reported, “We cannot even pretend to patch this roof any more.”

Unfortunately, the replacement of the roof would be very expensive. It is large, with a steep slope.

“Because of the historic nature of the building, it is very likely that the City of Madison would insist that an integrated gutter system be preserved — a more expensive project than hanging gutters at the end of the roof line,” noted Monsignor Holmes.

The bid for a new roof is $165,000. That would be a very major expense for the parish.

The options

Faced with this situation, the parish considered options such as demolishing the building, addressing individual improvements, or selling or leasing the building.

The parish weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each option. It decided to move ahead with a plan to redevelop the building by the parish.

A plan has been made for the development of the Holy Redeemer School building into student housing, designed especially to serve the students of St. Paul’s University Catholic Center.

The plan

Mark Landgraf (Landgraf Construction) has worked in collaboration with Kothe Real Estate Partners and Insite Consulting Architects (who specialize in the reuse of historic buildings) to develop a plan for the adaptive reuse of the Holy Redeemer School building.

The building would be reconfigured into student apartments, intended especially to serve students associated with St. Paul’s University Catholic Center.

St. Paul’s plans for its own new building on the State St. Mall have recently been scaled back to eliminate eight floors of student housing, so this seems an opportune time for such a project.

The current plan shows 55 single occupancy bedrooms, grouped into three-, five-, and six-bedroom units. That exact configuration is subject to revision.

The apartments would be furnished, to avoid the wear and tear on the building as residents move in and out.

The proposal is to renovate the building entirely, down to its load-bearing walls. The exterior of the building would be tuck-pointed and external fire escapes removed.

The building would have a new roof, new windows, and new HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems. The building would be highly energy efficient.

A new Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) with the Cathedral Parish as the sole member would be formed to hold title to the property. Thus the parish would retain full ownership while being insulated against any liability beyond the loss of the building.

Initial conversations have been held with City of Madison personnel, who are enthusiastic about the project, said Monsignor Holmes.

The city would favor the preservation of an historic building, as well as increasing the density of population on the isthmus without adding more automobiles. Since the project uses an existing building, it will not be necessary to obtain the endorsement of the Urban Design Commission.

Service for students

The intention is to provide students with a chance to live in a Catholic community, in a safe, attractive, convenient, and affordable facility.

The plan allows rent to be set about 20 percent below the market rate for new properties, and at par with what a student would pay for space in the 19th century rental properties in the neighborhood.

The advertised price could be set at market rate, with a discount or scholarship available on the recommendation of St. Paul’s.

One downside of this plan is that it will entail the loss of some parking spaces. The parish has the opportunity to enter an arrangement with the City of Madison for very affordable Sunday parking in the ramp across Johnson St. from Holy Redeemer Church.

Financial summary

The total cost of the project would be $4,238,136. It would be eligible for federal historic tax credits that are estimated to yield $557,601 toward the project.

The parish would contribute the land on which the building sits, estimated to be worth $406,000. It is unlikely that the parish would need to make any cash investment in this project.

Initial figures, which used conservative assumptions throughout, indicated that the maximum cash investment from the parish would be about $50,000.

The remaining $3,223,269 would be obtained as a loan. The cost of the loan would be amortized for repayment over 25 years.

The project is projected to provide the parish with a positive cash flow of $55,286 in the first year — a figure that gradually increases to $132,832 in the 10th year.


The parish would like to open the building for its first residents by August 1, 2014. Initial design and planning continues until February of 2013.

Diocesan approval will be sought in January of 2013 and city approvals and entitlements between January and September of 2013.

Construction will take place from September of 2013 to July 2014 before occupancy in August.

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