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Modern Living in Historic Buildings: Old-Time Schools Turned High-End Residential Complexes

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live in a school? Maybe some dream of living in the magic-surrounded Hogwarts or others imagine the dorms on a campus filled with lush greenery. Yet the schools we want to talk about today are a little different. Through adaptive reuse, some of the nation’s historic school buildings have been turned into luxurious residential apartments, where you can live your best life, without any homework.

Successful adaptation projects are seen all over the country. With large corridors, very tall rooms and practical layouts, old schools are perfectly re-imagined as luxurious homes filled with a historic air. In this story, you will see the highlights of some of the most beautiful conversion projects of old schools turned into apartments.

Fifth Avenue School Lofts: former Fifth Avenue School, Pittsburgh, PA

fifth avenue school lofts then now

Images courtesy of Steiner Realty

A gorgeous Gothic-style building, the Fifth Avenue High School was built around 1895, containing large offices and training facilities for teachers, two gymnasiums and a swimming pool. After the school closed down, the building was sold to the city of Pittsburgh, and it remained vacant for 30 years. Listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the building was declared a landmark in 1999. Years later, it was bought by Steiner Realty and converted into residential spaces, which opened up to the public in 2012. 

interior fifth avenue school lofts pittsburgh

Images courtesy of Steiner Realty

After renovations to the interiors, apartments in Fifth Avenue School Lofts offer their tenants modern features and aesthetic finishes, while maintaining an air of history. The high ceilings provide the rooms with a true feeling of luxury. As they fill with light from the tall windows, the apartments open up all their amenities for the residents, from granite counter-tops to rich laminate floors. After considerable effort, the building’s beautiful corridors, its archways and transom windows were brought back to life and integrated into the building’s design, defining living in luxury amid history.

Grant School Lofts: former Grant School, Bellevue, PA

adaptive reuse school residential grant school

Images courtesy of Steiner Realty

A site which paid tribute to great pedagogues who believed in a modern approach to education, the Grant School was originally built at the beginning of the 20th century and it served the Bellevue, PA school district. The school was closed in the early 1980s and it served as a community center for a while, before being bought in 2004 by Steiner Realty and transformed into residential space.

interiors adaptive reuse residential space

Images courtesy of Steiner Realty

The Grant School Lofts now offer spacious apartments, with high ceilings and large Eagle windows, filling the room with warmth and light. Modern features such as granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances were added to provide each living space with proper amenities. The history of the space is preserved in the original, refinished maple floors and period woodwork, as well as the French style inspired doors. A corner chalkboard is a playful feature, which acts as a reminder of the building’s history and a testament to this old school turned into apartments.

Lofts of Mount Washington: former Prospect School, Pittsburgh, PA

prospect school then and now

Images courtesy of CMS Housing

Prospect School was built during the Great Depression in the Art Deco style, a popular option at that time. It functioned until 2004 when it was closed down and remained vacant. In 2014, Rodriguez Associates purchased the building and brought it back to life, maintaining the asymmetrical shapes and intricate designs of the iconic style. As the area blossomed, Mount Washington became an ever popular destination for a lot of people, and redesigning Prospect School into a luxurious apartment building provided residential space of the highest quality. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and it is considered a landmark of Pittsburgh.

interior apartments lofts mount washington

Images courtesy of CMS Housing

With a variety of options — from studio apartments to townhouse units — the Lofts of Mount Washington offers state-of-the-art features and luxury amenities, complemented by views of a renovated Pittsburgh skyline you can take in through original large windows or from their resident terrace. The resident courtyard features the same symmetry as the building itself, the perfect place to relax and unwind. The building is equipped with a large auditorium and a resident lobby. It is also well-connected to other districts in the city, making commute to various interest points easy and enjoyable.

Norman School Lofts: former Norman School, Kansas City, MO

adaptive reuse schools to residential

Images courtesy of Del Properties

The historic Norman School was built at the beginning of the 20th century in multiple stages. The trademark building with limestone exterior and Jacobethan Revival architecture was built in 1906 and expanded in 1910. The school functioned for a long time but eventually it became vacant and closed down in 2006. Because it preserves the unique Jacobethan architectural style, the building was placed in the National Historic Register in 2015, but it was acquired before that, in 2009, by Del Properties, with the plan to restore it and turn it into a high-end apartment building. 

interiors norman school lofts
Images courtesy of Del Properties

Many of the historical features of this old school turned into apartments were kept, including interior layouts, hardwood floors, staircases and even some chalkboards, while others had to be restored, including the exterior limestone. Because some of the building was damaged, in certain places it had to be rebuilt, but the team made sure to respect the original design. Now, the community offers one and two bedroom apartments, as well as an incredible penthouse, all with state-of-the-art amenities. Under the name of Norman School Lofts, the building now also includes a swimming pool and hot tub, outdoor terraces for apartments and other modern amenities suited to all those who want to call it home.

The Barrett: former Barrett Middle School, Columbus, OH

adaptive reuse the barrett middle school

Images courtesy of CASTO Communities

Constructed in 1898 and inspired by Roman and Greek architecture, the Barrett school is a construction which reflects the importance of education and care for the young minds of the community. It has been a significant part of the history of Columbus, and today it stands just as tall, with its elegant, arched windows, tall columns and punctuated roof-lines. After careful renovations, a large part of the tradition and history of the building remains today; The Barrett opens its doors for tenants to live in modern luxury surrounded by history.

barrett interiors apartment adaptive reuse

Images courtesy of CASTO Communities

With original elements such as hardwood floors and very tall ceilings, the apartments in The Barrett offer their residents modern luxuries like walk-in closets, granite counter-tops, stainless steel appliances and many more amenities. The community also puts at the disposal of the residents a Library Lounge with entertainment options and other exclusive perks for those choosing to call The Barrett home.

The Palmer: former Palmer School, Philadelphia, PA

adaptive reuse old school

Images courtesy of Cross Properties

The captivating history of The Palmer dates back to the roaring ’20s, when it first functioned as the Green Hill Farms Hotel. Designed by Horace Trumbauer, the hotel was a staple of luxury and the go-to for many wealthy visitors of the region. In 1939, it was sold to the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, who later founded Eastern University in Saint David’s. Its conversion implied different complex processes, including the important step of entering the building in the National Register of Historic Places, accomplished by the development team Cross Properties. The historic facades of the building were mostly retained, with small alterations and adaptations where necessary, and the common areas of the building took inspiration from its early days as a luxurious hotel. 

interior apartments the palmer
Images courtesy of Cross Properties

The unique aspect of The Palmer is its variety of floor plans, which makes living in this community an experience tailored to individual tastes. Apart from the modern finishes and elegant design of each apartment, The Palmer also boasts a large, decorated lobby, a slate patio, a yoga room and fitness center, as well as a saltwater pool, surrounded by the tall columns of the old hotel. A community garden and beautiful outdoor space are there to pay tribute to the lush gardens that surrounded the old building. With attention to detail and care for the residents’ well-being, The Palmer is a staple of high-end, residential living.

West Hill: former Swinney Elementary, Kansas City, MO

adaptive reuse swinney elementary west hill
Images courtesy of Dalmark Development Group LLC

The Swinney Elementary School was built in 1914, covered with red bricks, as was the style of the day. It served proudly until its last days, but in 2010 it was closed down. The building saw a new chance, when in 2013 it was acquired by the Dalmark Development Group LLC and renovations began to restore the facade and other elements like the hardwood floors of the school’s gymnasium. Augmented with further developments, the now residential community is a mixture of old and new, offering its residents a high-end experience, while still paying tribute to the old school turned into apartments.

apartment interiors west hill kansas city
Images courtesy of Dalmark Development Group LLC

With gorgeous views of Kansas City from the renovated terrace and a sleek design incorporating both modern and historic elements, the re-branded West Hill apartments welcomes its residents with open arms. It features amazing perks, from community amenities like a state-of-the-art fitness center, club house and picnic areas, to convenient apartment features and exclusive services. Residents can choose from brand new apartments or renovated historic ones, as West Hill offers a variety of floor plans. It is also well-connected to interest points in the city, and the neighborhood offers plenty of options in terms of entertainment, school and employment options.


Disclaimer: The old pictures presented in this story were credited to the best of our knowledge to those who have given us permission to use them.

Mihaela Buzec
Mihaela Buzec is a writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart. Mihaela is a versatile writer whose work was also published on many blogs and websites in a variety of industries: real estate, design, lifestyle, college life, and personal finance. Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics. With a background in academic writing, she is a passionate reader, writer, and researcher, looking to always expand her knowledge. You can get in touch with Mihaela at

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