HomeSchool: Living in converted school buildings

by Maxwell Tielman

When I was younger, I often fantasized about being locked in school overnight. While I was never very gung ho about school during the day (you could often find me doodling away during math class), there was something oddly alluring about the idea of having the whole place to myself. I imagined strolling around deserted corridors, drawing murals on the chalkboards, climbing ropes in the gym and wreaking havoc in the auditorium. Sometimes this fantasy extended beyond the idea of being stuck in school to actually living there. School never particularly caught my fancy as a place of education, but as a place for living? By golly — it was palatial! I would sometimes express my living-in-school fantasy to friends, but nobody seemed to share my enthusiasm. “Why on earth would you want to spend any more time at school than you need to?”, they would ask. Still, the idea never really left my mind. Today, I still wonder what it would be like to buy an old, crumbling schoolhouse and turn it into an actual house. Luckily, in recent years, I haven’t had to imagine. Across the country, developers have been turning old elementary and high schools into apartments and even hotels. Here’s a quick roundup of some notable ones! — Max

The full post continues after the jump . . .

The Oak School Lofts, Buffalo

Built in 1915, the building at 362 Oak Street in downtown Buffalo, NY, housed Buffalo’s Alternative High School until 2004. After the school shut down, Rocco Termini, a visionary developer responsible for rejuvenating many of Buffalo’s forgotten spaces, took over the property and converted it into loft spaces. Although the lofts at the Oak School are luxurious (many feature gas fireplaces and plasma televisions), efforts were taken to preserve the look and feel of the building’s original purpose. Many of the classroom-converted apartments still have their original chalkboards, hardwood maple floors, ceiling molding and giant 5 x 10 windows. Additionally, the public spaces of the building have been lovingly renovated to their more or less original state. When one enters the building, one gets the sneaking sense that they are actually at school — original water fountains and bookshelves populate the halls, and frosted windowpanes on apartment doors still have their classroom numbers emblazoned on them. According to Jason Termini, Rocco’s son, the goal of repurposing such gems is to combat suburban sprawl and bring life back to the urban center. “You don’t throw out a person when they get old,” he says, “so why a building?”

TheBuffaloLofts.com. Above images courtesy of Jill Greenberg and Oak Street Lofts.

Kennedy School Hotel, Portland

Like the Oak School Lofts in Buffalo, the Kennedy School in Portland opened its doors to students in 1915. Over the course of the 20th century, the school pulled double duty after hours, serving as a public meeting hall, polling place, blood donation center and weekend playground. Unfortunately, the school was forced to shut its doors in 1975 due to lowered enrollment and disrepair. Heartbroken, community activists petitioned to preserve the school and ultimately saved it. In 1997, McMenamins, a local hospitality group dedicated to repurposing old buildings, converted it into one of Portland’s most unique destinations. With 57 guest rooms (many with classroom features still intact), a couch-filled movie theater, its own brewery, soaking pool and charm to spare, the Kennedy School hotel is the perfect home away from home.

5736 NE 33rd Ave, Portland, OR. Above photos courtesy of Liz Devine and McMenamins.

Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend, OR

Also owned by McMenamins, the Old St. Francis School Hotel was built in 1936 and was originally a Catholic schoolhouse. Today, the school’s classrooms have been converted into lodging spaces, and the hotel boasts dozens of unconventional amenities such as a pub, a bakery, a brewery, a movie theater and a majestic soaking pool with delightful arabesque features.

700 NW Bond St., Bend, OR. Above photos courtesy of Liz Devine and McMenamins.

Above images: 279 Sterling Place and 205 Warren Street in Brooklyn, both old schoolhouses converted into lofts and condos.


While this post focuses on just three school-to-living-space conversions, there are dozens more where these came from. All over, it seems, developers are feeling the itch to go back to school and are turning once abandoned local treasures into rejuvenated homes. Here are a few more notable conversions:

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  • I love all of these. There is something about walking into an old school building, be it the smells or the architectural details or the ghosts of detentions past, I always feel nostalgic. Maybe because my mother was a teacher, in addition to the 12 years I spent in various schools, my connection to these buildings feels very strong.

  • Seeing these old buildings being re-purposed is so great! We have many schools that have recently been transformed into living spaces in St. Louis. There are also a few for sale around town. Hopefully, they will get scooped up and be turned into living spaces as well! It’s great for the community and the neighborhoods in which they are located.

    — Kristy @ Wine Logic

  • I went to St. Francis for elementary school, and went back after it was converted into the hotel and restaurant. There is something amazingly surreal about drinking booze in the same room that you had sex education from a nun in.
    I am happy to see that this amazing old building has a new life!

  • Had dinner and drinks at the Kennedy School in Portland. After a few Ruby Ales, I remembering giggling as I walked to the bathroom…kept thinking, I’m drunk at school! Somebody send me to the principal’s office! Lol. It really is an impressive building and I love how McMenamin’s has preserved the old architecture.

  • What a fun post, my old apartment was in a converted elementary school building! I have to admit it was fun having bulletin boards in the halls & chalkboards in your living room!

  • The Oak School Lofts look gorgeous! There’s something so attractive about living in a converted building like a school, church, or factory. It’s on my list of things to do in life.

    I got married last year in the Kennedy School, and my husband and I stayed at the Old St. Francis for our first anniversary. They’re both fun places, and I highly recommend the soaking pools. The one at the Old St. Francis is especially beautiful. Even if you’re not staying there, at least at the Kennedy School you can pay $5 or so to go hang out in the pool. And they both have movie theaters with cheap second-run movies.

  • I lived for a couple years in a converted school building in Wimbledon, England. It was a fabulous space!

  • I always wanted to live in a school! When we started looking for a house, I actually contacted the school board about a boarded up old school down the street from my apartment. Alas, it was not for sale, but a girl could dream! I went on to look at a warehouse, and several other industrial buildings before settling on a Storefront. Maybe for the second house I can have a school!

  • When I was in seventh grade I had this crazy idea of repurposing my small school into a house for me and my (fictional/future) family of seven. I used to think about it before I went to sleep at night. No, I was not a normal kid, and yes, I came to my senses about that 7 kids thing.

  • Awesome. I just moved out of a place in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada that was around the corner from this “school to lofts” conversion: http://stinsonschool.com/ Some pretty amazing things there. I’ve got no connection to the developer and I don’t know anyone who’s bought a unit (mostly out-of-town downsizers, apparently, instead of younger buyers) but I absolutely loved seeing the school before and after and touring some of the units.

  • I can’t begin to express how obsessed I am with this post!! I absolutely love it!

    In my middle and high schools in small town Wyoming we had “lock-ins” as fundraisers where students could stay the night and classrooms played different movies and held different activities. I loved attending them, so fun!!

  • my girlfriends and I used to plan out what we would do to the school if we lived in it. Spent 3 years of highschool playing with the idea. I would love it!

  • I lived in the Bass Lofts in Atlanta (L5P) for a couple years. Loved it and the location but I had nesting fever so I moved into house. I then found myself back in another awesome loft 4 years later!


  • Another one…
    Queen Anne High School
    201 Galer Street Seattle, WA 98109

    It has been well maintained, and the common areas and architecture are beautiful. Some of the condos still have the chalkboards.

  • Another one …
    Charles L. Coon Junior High School
    211 KENAN ST W, Wilson NC
    From 1958-1978, the building was used as a middle school; I attended school there in 1965-1966. It was later sold and used for storage. The building was restored and rehabilitated into apartments in 2003.

  • This seriously is my dream! I love all of the fun details and not to mention the hardwood floors. I would love to have doors from an old school or an old lab table or something fun.

  • I lived in an apartment complex that was once a school in Moline, Illinois. The building itself has been around for nearly 100 years. For a period of time, the building was abandoned and decrepit, but was restored and turned into apartments. The restoration didn’t focus on keeping the feeling of a school, so they seemed like normal apartments, except for the 12 foot windows. It was a really awesome place to live and I wish I had stayed more than a year, but we really loved it.

  • What a cool idea and all three of these were done so beautifully. You really can’t beat that for a home that’s both unique and nostalgic!

  • @HNG23 – I live in Toronto. How sad, looks like they completely gutted the interior of the Loretto College and only kept the exterior structure. I like the idea of actual classrooms being preserved as is and redesignated as living space (with minor modifications needed of course).

    This article is excellent though!

  • I’m so glad you covered these. There are so many amazing old school buildings that are vacant and for sale around the country — I wish they could all be reimagined rather than left to crumble and eventually be demolished.

    Have you seen the Ashley Arms apartments in Gastonia, NC? A family friend dreamed the rehab…and made it happen. It’s a gorgeous building and they kept so much of the original charm of the high school. Here’s the website, although the photos don’t do the space justice!