CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From the moment you walk through the double doors, the old school atmosphere comes back. You half expect to hear the tardy bell or an announcement over the intercom.
There's the principal's office on the left; you can make out traces of the lettering on the door. The old combination gym/auditorium is straight ahead, while the janitor's closet is around the corner to the right. The boys and girls rooms are on the second floor.
Step inside one of the classrooms of the former Glenwood School, though, and a different picture emerges -- apartments, freshly painted, ready for occupancy.
Chris Sadd, developer of Glenwood at Luna Park, said the conversion of the old elementary school that he and his brothers bought two years ago is virtually complete.
"We're just waiting to get the asphalt put down, and we'll be ready to open," Sadd said Tuesday.
Closed in 2011 and consolidated into the then-new West Side Elementary, Glenwood nearly faced a wrecker's ball. Mayor Danny Jones and his administration planned to acquire the site to create a neighborhood park in a land swap as part of their 2010 plan to have the Kanawha County school board build another consolidated school at Cato Park.
School board officials said the building was full of problems -- a leaky roof, asbestos, bowed windows, accessibility issues.
"You'd think it would be cheaper to fix the building than replace it," facilities planner Chuck Wilson said at the time. But after comparing costs they concluded, "The first thing you do is bulldoze it."
Historic-preservation activists thought otherwise. Other cities successfully saved old schools. Why not Charleston? Glenwood, designed in 1922 by H. Rus Warne, is an architectural gem that anchors the Luna Park Historic District, they said,
Between that and other hassles, the school board backed off and found another site for its Edgewood-area school, now under construction.
The Sadds weren't involved with the property -- or its issues -- at that point, Chris Sadd said, although brother and business partner Mark serves on the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
"At the time, we weren't thinking of doing that," Sadd said. "It wasn't an obvious choice."
By the time the school board put the school up for auction in July 2011, though, the Sadds submitted the sole bid -- $50,000 -- and bought the property. Two months later, they got the site rezoned for their proposal to carve the building up into 31 apartments for senior citizens.
Renovations started in November 2012 and are mosty complete, Sadd said.
Contrary to prior reports, he said, the building was in pretty good shape.
"It was actually in very good shape," Sadd said. "We couldn't have asked for anything better. Our experience was the building was so structurally sound, we didn't find any structural issues.
"It's been here since 1922. Look at the mortar and the brick. They're good buildings. When you say they don't build things like they used to, it's true."
Not that everything was hunky-dory. They replaced the leaking roof. All-new electrical, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems were installed. Every window was painstakingly restored -- the steel frames scraped and painted, filled with new double-paned tinted argon-filled panes.
Carving 31 one- and two-bedroom apartments out of the old classrooms, each with an attached cloakroom, was a complicated jigsaw puzzle, Sadd said. Each one is slightly different. Some old walls were removed, new ones built. The layout changed over time.
"We actually built walls, tore them down and redesigned apartments," he said. "I can't tell you how many times we redesigned.
"There's only so much pre-planning you can do for the wiring and HVAC. You just have to get into each individual unit and design on the fly."
Sadd started showing off the first floor to potential tenants about a month ago, after running newspaper ads. He's also given private tours to city officials and other insiders.