Old School

The Old Albuquerque High School campus is revived as a live/work/play community
August 11, 2010

Following tangled legal disputes and competing development proposals that led to 25 years of neglect, the Old Albuquerque High School (AHS) campus has been revitalized to include 69 loft apartments, two community meeting rooms, parking, and the promise of a whole lot more.

Rob Dickson and his company Paradigm & Co., formerly of Austin, Texas, have brought vitality back to the extra-wide hallways of Old AHS.

"Rob came into my office in 1989 and said he had a vision for redeveloping Old Albuquerque High School into a live/work downtown housing project," says project architect Dale Dekker, principal with Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, Albuquerque. "I said, 'Boy, this guy better be patient because it's going to take a long time.' And it did."

The city of Albuquerque obtained six of the seven campus buildings in 1996 for $1.5 million as a result of a legal transaction involving a condemnation lawsuit with the FDIC and 1954 AHS-grad Ricardo Chaves, whose family wanted to buy the property. The city put out a request for proposals in 1998 to revitalize the buildings. FarrMont Realty Group of Phoenix gained support for its proposal, which included an art and cultural center, a city library, and a YMCA. But, FarrMont got edged out by Paradigm & Co., whose plan to renovate the Old Main and Classroom buildings into lofts was accepted in 1999.

"Rob has the perspective that every hurdle is just another opportunity to excel," says Dekker. "It really requires someone who has a passion for preserving the historic fabric and character of a community, who can see beyond all the broken windows and vandalized exterior walls and see the jewel of an opportunity. That's Rob."

Once the plan was accepted, the challenge became putting the financing together, which took Dickson a year and a half.

"Part of it was just getting enough information to put the financing together," Dickson says. "We had to complete some of the design work and price the project. It took six to nine months just to do that. The last few months were spent really nailing down the money."

The funding for the $6.4 million Lofts at Albuquerque High was assembled with the help of private investors Fannie Mae and First State Bank, along with the $4.9 million in funds from the city and the U.S. Department of Commerce for a parking garage and land- and streetscape improvements. The project received $1.3 million in tax credits from the Federal government's Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program.

Under the rules of the tax credit program, Paradigm & Co. must retain ownership of the lofts for five years, after which Dickson can sell them as condominiums. Currently, the lofts rent anywhere from $500 to $1,300 a month, averaging $750.

Due to the high demand for Dickson to be on location in Albuquerque, he moved from Austin, Texas, into one of the lofts.

"It's really a great place to live," says Dickson. "I see firsthand the issues my fellow residents have to live with. That makes me a more-informed managing owner of the project. I try to put myself in their shoes and solve the problems before they happen."

Campus additions

Dickson will develop the library and gymnasium buildings as well.

The gym will be made into an additional 55 lofts that will be for sale immediately, as Dickson will not use the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program for that project. Dickson brought in local developer Rick Davis to convert the library building into office space.

Chaves, whose family trust retained ownership of the Manual Arts building, is currently developing it into a 10,000-sq.-ft. restaurant decorated with AHS memorabilia, approximately 15 apartments, and a renovated classroom where lectures will be given in Old AHS-style. He says that he has a special affinity to the Manual Arts building in particular.

"That's where I got my very first 'F,' so I have a real close relationship with that building," says Chaves. "I'm happy that I got one of the buildings. Nine out of my 10 siblings graduated from there. I have great memories of Albuquerque High School. It was the center of our lives growing up."

Due to the success of the Lofts at Albuquerque High, Dickson, local business owners, and residents have formed a neighborhood association to begin a community design process for the area to be developed in the next 20 years (see plan on p. 36). Along with a team of professionals, the group created a series of plans for the development of a quarter of a mile in all directions of the campus. They hope it will be accepted by the city and zoned accordingly. The plans call for new business, housing, retail, office, entertainment, and parking facilities in the area.

"This is an important step in sustaining our efforts," says Dickson. "We've still got a lot to do to create a district where you park once and walk to everything."

Construction Costs

General conditions $278,683
Building demolition 94,186
Misc. demolition & cleanup 144,163
Abatement 74,309
Framing & finish 409,367
Masonry 47,080
Misc. metals, concrete patch 165,223
Carpentry repairs, new trims 300,102
Roofing, ceiling insulation 99,725
Insulation, caulk, fire-stopping 33,022
Door repairs, entries, etc. 155,944
Windows trim, glass replace 454,803
Drywall ceilings, plaster repair 125,399
Concrete 65,096
Ceramic tile at tubs 32,868
Ceramic patch, polish concrete 11,802
Wood floor repair, refinish 57,800
Floor coverings 96,980
Mechanical 950,223
Electrical 431,648
Equipment, appliances 94,779
Elevators 85,952
Painting 135,022
Furnishings, blinds 37,531
Specialties 22,357
Bond 40,459
Change orders 38,307
City sales tax 273,375
Contractor's fee 221,396
Total $4,976,602