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Former Catholic schools turn into new projects

Posted at 6:10 PM, Oct 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-03 18:10:21-04

Blackboards and small handprints on the walls are the only signs that show St. Thomas Aquinas School building was a former Catholic school in South Buffalo. What used to be a school, is now turning into 34 apartments that will house some 60 people.

"These projects are not easy to do," said developer Karl Frizlen. "They're very challenging but we see the benefit that it ultimately helps the community to come back." 

Frizlen added the apartments will be named "The School Lofts at Abott." This is just one project he is working on. He is also transforming two other former Catholic schools into living spaces as well. He said he's recently seen an increase of shut-down schools on the market.

"Certainly more than five years ago," said Frizlen. "I saw a lot of people picking up these older buildings - warehouses, schools - and retrofit them. I think that's part of the revival of Buffalo. I think we're well on our way to make this a better city."

Two years ago, the Buffalo Diocese closed down the primary school for St. Leo the Great Parish. Now, there's construction in place for a parish center and an activities building, which will focus on helping young people and the poor. That is a reason they're building a food pantry there.

"We're a vibrant parish community," said Monsignor Robert E. Zapfel, pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish. So, when we lose meeting space and parish gathering spaces, we want to go forward as a vibrant parish."

While the schools shut down due to declining enrollment, Frizlen said redeveloping old buildings bill bring new life to Western New York.

"It attracts younger people, and many are not familiar with Buffalo at all," said Frizlen. "They come from out of town, finding jobs here and they want to live in an Urban environment."

Declining enrollment was the reason behind some school closures. Spokesperson for the Buffalo Diocese said in 2014 they had to close 10 schools. None shut down in 2015, while only one closed this year.