The empty former Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Rutland is to get a new lease on life when Housing Trust of Rutland County purchases it from the parish and coverts it into affordable housing.

“There is a very high poverty rate in Rutland, and affordable housing is a real issue,” said Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King churches in Rutland and St. Patrick Church in Wallingford. “It is incumbent upon us followers of Christ to care for the poor in real ways. This will be a concrete way in which we can help put a dent in homelessness.”

Immaculate Heart of Mary School was built in the early 1950s and served in that capacity for about 15 years. “It’s a beautiful school building, but a Catholic school there is no longer needed. That same building will now be used to take care of the homeless in our area. It is a good ‘new use’ of that school building,” Msgr. Bourgeois said.

The almost 20,000 square foot school would comprise 19 apartments (10 micro and nine 1-bedroom apartments) as well as common areas. Within the building a portion of the school’s gym is slated to remain as indoor recreational space, and the exiting stage as a resident lounge. In addition to these features the property will include on-site laundry, a community kitchen, outdoor green space and on-site parking. Individual office spaces and meeting rooms are also incorporated into the design of the building so that service providers can meet with residents on site.

“The intent is to maintain the school’s historic nature and positive neighborhood impact while creating an energy-efficient place for residents to call home,” said Melissa Disorda, assistant project developer of the housing trust. “This project is the perfect example of matching community housing needs to available community resources. In this case the IHM school needed a new purpose, and the Rutland County community needed a way to address the growing population of those experiencing homelessness.”

Ten of the apartments will be reserved for those coming from the Rutland County’s Coordinate Entry List, which is a master list of those experiencing homelessness in the county. The remaining nine units will be leased to those households that go through the standard application process at the Housing Trust of Rutland County.

The Housing Trust of Rutland County is partnering with Rutland Mental Health and the Homeless Prevention Center to provide services to those households that elect to participate.

All 19 units will have a subsidy associated with it allowing the household to pay a portion of their income as their rent.

The Housing Trust of Rutland County is collaborating with a multitude of organizations, businesses and the City of Rutland to create these 19 units of permanent, supportive housing to house Rutland’s most vulnerable individuals. “Up to 50 percent of the apartments will be leased long-term to the highest needs people on the region’s master list of those experiencing homelessness (coordinated entry),” Disorda explained. “The remaining units will be available to qualifying households who are already adequately housed in the region, but may be looking for services provided at this level.”

Dick Courcelle, CEO of Community Care Network (Rutland Mental Health Services & Rutland Community Programs) is a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Finance Committee. In his opinion, creation of affordable housing in the building is “the best and highest use of this building.”

For several years, the Finance Committee has grappled with what to with the school building, “as it is a financial drain in its current state,” he said. “Commercial demand for old school buildings is low, and costs to retrofit for other rental uses or demolish the building were prohibitive.”

The Housing Trust of Rutland County has an excellent track record around developing affordable housing for vulnerable populations in the Rutland Region, he continued. “the use of IHM School as permanent supportive housing, and its focus on reducing chronic homelessness in the region, is on target with the mission of the church.”

Msgr. Bourgeois has made it a point to involve the parishes of the Rutland-Wallingford Catholic Community in local efforts to alleviate hunger and homelessness. A large Outreach Committee sponsors several drives a year to collect for the poor, mostly of the Rutland area. “These parishes are now making a significant impact on the local scene,” he said. “The idea of taking one of our buildings, especially this one that is not used anyway, and devoting it to alleviating poverty fits in nicely not only with the overall mission of the Church to help the homeless but my own desire that the Catholics of Rutland and Wallingford become a driving force in the local effort to chip away at the hunger, homelessness and poverty found in our area.”

Added Courcelle: “This project is a win-win — a perfect mission for IHM.”

Disorda said the faith community plays an important role in serving those experiencing homelessness in the Rutland community. “In his first year [as bishop, Burlington] Bishop [Christopher] Coyne came to Rutland to meet with those of us focused on addressing the homelessness crisis in our county. When IHM began considering the sale of the school, he suggested that [Msgr. Bourgeois] Bernie reach out to the Housing Trust of Rutland County regarding the possibility of the IHM school being able to utilized to service this community in such a manner. Partnering with the IHM community as a whole has been a positive experience that we look forward to continuing as future neighbors.”

Msgr. Bourgeois said the purchase contract has been signed, and the building is scheduled to be finally purchased by October, 2020. Funds from the sale “will go into the general fund of the parish for now and will probably be used for upkeep and renovation of the church building as needed.”