'Unlike what they've seen': $13.2M project to turn former Fargo school into apartment complex nears completion

FARGO-Not long ago, a former school building along Fargo's North University Drive was a vacant property. Now it's one of the most anticipated apartment developments in town.Woodrow Apartments is the result of a nearly complete $13.2 million Kilbo...

FARGO-Not long ago, a former school building along Fargo's North University Drive was a vacant property. Now it's one of the most anticipated apartment developments in town.

Woodrow Apartments is the result of a nearly complete $13.2 million Kilbourne Group project that renovated the 34,372-square-foot former Woodrow Wilson School building and constructed a new 75,169-square-foot apartment complex.

Many tenants have already moved into the new building at the property, 1222 4th Ave. N., and several more will soon as move-ins begin at the old building on Saturday, July 1.

Project Manager Deb Wendel Daub said the 97 units-34 in the former school and 63 in the new structure-were 58 percent leased by last week.

It's considered luxury apartments, according to Property Manager Logan Ackerman, with rent ranging from $880 for a 479-square-foot studio to $1,725 for a 1,497-square-foot, three-bedroom unit.

Its luxury status means prospective tenants are looking for something different, and Ackerman said they're finding just that at Woodrow Apartments.

"They're looking for the modern look, something unique that's just unlike what they've seen around Fargo before," he said. "I think that's what Woodrow is, especially in the historic building."

Historic property

Whether they live in the new or old building, Ackerman said every tenant can expect amenities that go beyond the norm.

Each unit has its own washer and dryer and comes with internet and cable included. Tenants can park in a surface lot or pay an extra $100 a month for a garage spot under the new building.

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Residents are responsible for their own electric bills, but Ackerman said the building's efficient construction and individual air compressor units, not in-wall air conditioners, means a two-bedroom unit typically has a $40 to $50 monthly power bill.

The buildings are linked by a community room, and residents can use an outdoor courtyard with natural gas grills, a gas fire pit and seating.

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But it's the property's past that makes the development unique. Some hallway walls have alphabet wallpaper, linking the project to its academic roots, and floorplans were named after educators who taught there.

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The school was built in 1917 and served as an alternative high school from the 1970s until 2011. Fargo Public Schools sold the building to Aldevron in 2012, and Aldevron sold it to Kilbourne Group in 2015, with construction starting on the apartments in March 2016.

Spokesperson Adrienne Olson said it was a perfect fit for the developer.

"The two ways that we believe in development is historic renovation and then urban infill where infrastructure already exists, so this is the best of both of our worlds to be able to do both kinds of projects on the same site," she said.

Olson said Kilbourne Group plans to put up a commercial building on the corner of the property that will eventually house a business.

The historic part of the complex makes use of the old school building, with units on the top floor boasting 20-foot ceilings with exposed rafters, refinished original wood flooring and exposed clay block and plaster on the walls.

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Restrooms at the end of hallways were turned into efficiency apartments, while the former locker rooms near the gymnasium became two split-level units with living space in the former boiler room.

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The old gym, too, is part of the mix, with construction wrapping up now to turn it into an exercise room.

Not all of its history presented an easy situation for Kilbourne Group. Olson said the name of the former school was the subject of many "heart-to-heart talks" among Kilbourne Group employees as Woodrow Wilson's racist views prompted Princeton University students in 2015 to ask the campus to drop references to the former president on buildings and in college names.

Ultimately, she said Kilbourne Group came to the same decision as Princeton and kept the name as a historical reference. The apartment complex became Woodrow Apartments, dropping Wilson but keeping the "Woodrow Wilson" keystone on the front of the building.

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"There's enough school of thought that you don't have to erase the history, even though it doesn't make everybody happy," she said. "It's still history, and we respect the past and chose not to stray too far."

The building is Fargo's second-oldest surviving school-Horace Mann was built two years earlier in 1915. Kilbourne Group will honor its history on July 18 with an open house to celebrate the building's 100th anniversary.

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To learn more about Woodrow Apartments, visit www.woodrowapartments.com or call (701) 532-3252.