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Whittier project receives initial approval from historic group

Pictured here is the former Whittier School building at 410 W. Second Ave. in Mitchell, which was recently sold for possible conversion to apartments. (Chris Huber/Republic)

The Mitchell Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday approved a request from Brad Ciavarella to move forward with renovating the former Whittier School building.

Ciavarella, his wife, Karol, and Ross and Amber Determan founded Whittier Lofts LLC in March and purchased the Whittier School on April 9 for $175,000.

Ciavarella shared preliminary plans Wednesday during the commission's meeting at City Hall.

The current plan is only to move Ciavarella Design into a portion of the lower level of the building. Because the building is on the National Historic Register, approval of Ciaverella's plan is needed from the commission.

With the approval, Ciavarella will move forward in getting a city building permit for the office portion of the project.

Future plans are to renovate the first and second levels of the building into 19 apartments of varying sizes.

"We have an architectural historian involved as a consultant. We also have the State Historic Preservation Office involved," he said.

Ciavarella said the exterior of the building and the corridors inside will remain the same.

The classrooms will be renovated into mostly two-bedroom apartments.

The apartments will be higher-scale, between $750 to $1,000 per month for rent.

Ciavarella said electrical, plumbing and mechanical updates will be installed throughout the building.

He said there are plans to renovate the gymnasium to allow for tenant use and, in the future, for public use for various functions.

"Structurally, it's awesome," Ciavarella told the commission. "It's very sound, concrete. It's a prime location."

The building is located near the corner of Sanborn Boulevard and Second Avenue.

Commissioner Jeff Logan made the motion to give the commission's approval to move forward, saying, "It's an exciting project. It'll be a real asset to the community."

The entire commission agreed.

Longhorn Bar

The former Longhorn Bar building at the corner of Main Street and First Avenue may remain, according to the owner.

During the commission meeting, Jason Bates said he'd received a few bids for renovating the building and demolition.

Either way, it would cost about $40,000, he said.

"If I can get it fixed for under $45,000, then I could sell it and almost break even," he said.

Bates isn't sure he'll be able to finance either option. He's currently fighting his insurance company, which claims it won't cover the damage caused by an interior wall that collapsed in November.

The commission suggested Bates' first move should be to get a core sample of the wall to determine whether it's stable enough to save or needs to be rebuilt.

Molly Goldsmith, director of Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, suggested Bates apply for a loan from a local program that assists downtown businesses.

Bates mentioned he has also looked into applying for historical grants through the state.

Bates' concern about tearing down the building is damaging the VFW's wall to the north.

"I still think fixing it is the safest bet," Bates said. "Then I'm not damaging any other walls."