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When Springfield Public Schools hosted a groundbreaking for a new Boyd Elementary in June 2020, interest was piqued for Midtown neighborhood residents who lived near the old school at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Lynn Street.
Abbe Ehlers has lived in Midtown for over 30 years.
“When we got the new Boyd, we knew something would come here, and so I think there’s been great interest in what that looked like,” she said.
A neighborhood meeting was held at the historic Boyd Elementary site with developer Matt Blevins, who intends to turn the school building into apartments. The meeting was a step in the rezoning process, which would convert the school property from residential to planned development.
Nearly 100 neighbors assembled in the former school library annex to look at plans and ask questions of Blevins and Ryan Stalzer of Lee Engineering & Associates LLC. Each helmed a table with a one-sheet drawing of the property plans.
Ehlers said Blevins seemed forthright in answering questions.
“He seems to have a plan that addresses some of my personal issues as far as just maintaining the building itself and being sensitive to listening to neighbors,” she said.
The plan, as Blevins and Stalzer explained to neighborhood residents who dropped by their tables, is for the exterior of the building to stay the same, aside from cleanup and maintenance. The 1.5 acre property will also stay the same, with plans to keep trees and add other landscaping.
Inside the 25,000-square-foot building, roughly 16 apartments will be built, ranging in size from studios to two-bedroom units, Blevins said.
Blevins said the studios will be roughly 300 square feet, with larger apartments ranging from 600 to 900 square feet.
The library, a newer brick annex connected to the main school building by a hallway, will be a commercial space, Blevins said.
“We’re leaving it fairly open at this point in time – eating and drinking establishment, like a restaurant, or a boutique; you know, sundries, bodega, that kind of thing,” he said, adding the option is being kept open for a fitness center or yoga studio, and he said envisions only one tenant in the commercial area.
Blevins said he has heard interest from one prospective tenant who would like to use the former library for office space. In a Facebook post urging neighborhood residents to attend the meeting, Midtown Neighborhood Association board member Ralph Plank said he heard Restore SGF, a city organization that encourages the renovation of historic neighborhoods, is interested in the space.
Richard Ollis, a City Council member and a member of the inaugural board of directors of Restore SGF, confirmed that the organization’s interest.
In an email, Ollis said the organization had met with Blevins.
“We are excited about the prospect of leasing this iconic space and anxiously await the outcome of the neighborhood meeting and rezoning process,” he said.
Inside the school, a small coffee shop will occupy the former kitchen. Though it may have bistro tables outdoors, Blevins said, there would not be other outdoor activities besides what residents did on their own. The school’s playground and basketball equipment will be removed, he said.
Blevins is listed as a board member for Boyd School Redevelopment Corp., whose purchase of the SPS surplus property for $200,000 was finalized Nov. 14, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The building has been vacant since August 2021, though paper flyers with reminders for students and their families are still taped to the front doors.
The next step in the process is for the zoning change request to go before the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission March 9. A City Council hearing will be held April 3 with a council vote April 17.
Blevins said the development likely would be completed by the end of 2023. The price range for apartments is not yet determined, he said, but they will likely cost slightly more than student apartments in the area because they are nicer units. Target residents range from students all the way up to empty-nesters, Blevins said.
“We’re going to be market rate, open to anybody that wants to apply,” he said. “I’ll be surprised with whatever demographic gets in here because it’s such a wide demographic.”
The meeting was part of the zoning process, with Blevins collecting signatures and comment cards from those who attended. He said he would be taking concerns under advisement as he finalizes plans.
Blevins explained to Midtown residents that a planned development is flexible on the front end as he creates something new.
“Once it’s locked in, it’s the most restricted zoning that you can have, because once you’re locked in, that’s what you have to be,” he said. “You can’t change it in any substantial way.”
Blevins said this will be the first that he does independently, though he has been involved in multiple projects in southwest Missouri.
A commercial real estate broker, he owns Matt Blevins Real Estate. His LinkedIn page notes he works in project management, asset management, and real estate leasing and development, and he has experience working with investors on investment planning, infill oversight and project administration.
Preserving the school
Blevins said it was important to him to keep the historic school building intact.
“There’s nothing like an old school,” Blevins said. “When the units are done, I want the residents to feel like they’re living in their elementary school. When you’re walking through the halls, getting that nostalgic feeling, that’s what I want.”
Some residents said they chose their homes because of their proximity to a school, and they expressed reservations about the proposed apartment building. One sticking point for some was the chance that a bar or restaurant might occupy the commercial space on the property.
Julie Brown, the former school’s next-door neighbor to the north, said she isn’t a teetotaler, but she doesn’t want to live next to an alcohol establishment.
“I don’t want it in my backyard, and I don’t want the traffic in my backyard,” she said. “We moved here because we really love the Midtown neighborhood – we love the diversity. I didn’t move next to a bar for a reason.”
Midtown resident Nathan Davis was even more adamant in his remarks to Stalzer, first clarifying that a drinking establishment was a possibility, which Stalzer confirmed.
“If you go for that, I will organize all the neighbors. We will be at the city and we will go against you – all of us. I want you to know that,” he said. “We want to be friends and we will be friends, but if you do that, we’re going to be enemies.”
“Understood,” Stalzer replied.
The first downtown Springfield branch for Arvest Bank opened; a longtime licensed massage therapist became a first-time business owner; and 7 Brew Coffee opened its fourth shop in Springfield.