Aug 18, 2014

Groundbreaking for apartments held at former Holyoke Catholic property



Story and photos by Terence Hegarty

HOLYOKE – A groundbreaking ceremony for a $20 million project that will create 54 middle-income apartments at the former Holyoke Catholic High School property here was held the morning of Aug. 18.

Chestnut Park Apartments, being developed with both private and public dollars, are slated to open in a year.

A 10 a.m. press conference hosted more than 50 attendees including local politicians, Holyoke Catholic alumni members as well as numerous members of the press. The crowd was gathered on the street in front of the main entrance of the former high school.

The property, which housed Holyoke Catholic High School from 1962 until 2002, was also home to The School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre dame de Lourdes beginning in 1883.

Situated on the corner of Chestnut and Hampden streets in the downtown section of the city, the four buildings are being renovated into one- and two-bedroom apartments which will be rented for approximately $900 to $1,000 per month.

E. Denis Walsh, the developer of the project, purchased the property from the Diocese of Springfield in March 2004.

“It’s been a long time, but it’s been worth it,” Walsh said of the time between his purchasing the property and the groundbreaking for development. Walsh, a well-known developer in Holyoke, owns seven buildings on High Street between Dwight and Hampden streets, just blocks away from the former Holyoke Catholic property.

Walsh told iobserve that he purchased the building, in part, because he recognized the historic quality of the architecture. Speaking to the crowd, Walsh paid tribute to the legacy behind the property, thanking the religious sisters who taught there and the Diocese of Springfield.

“The diocese today is very happy with the groundbreaking at the former Holyoke Catholic site,” said Mark Dupont, spokesperson for the Diocese of Springfield. “This is part of the diocesan commitment that when we do have surplus properties, we’d like to see them put to reuse,” he told iobserve.

“We see great value in being able to utilize these properties, turn them back over to the communities in which they existed for some greater good,” Dupont said. St. Jerome Church is adjacent to the property, just across Hampden Street.

Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse told the crowd that the project will be one of the largest investments in the history of downtown Holyoke.

He said that the City of Holyoke allocated $750,000 to the project, which, he said, is “a great example of a public/private partnership.”

Mayor Morse also told the crowd that the property is a key to the health of the neighborhood. “This area of the city is critical to making sure we have momentum for our residents and for the business community,” he said.

“I know this will transform this community and lead to further private investment in those properties that need it most here in the city of Holyoke.”

Walsh feels much the same way. “The more that we can do to bring people of all incomes to downtown, the stronger the downtown will be,” he said.

Some may question why the diocese could not have renovated the buildings and kept Holyoke Catholic High School on that site. Dupont said that the answer is two-fold.

“The first part of the answer is the different purpose that (the property) is being put to. It will be 54 apartments, not trying to house 500 students that we were looking at back in that time,” he said.

“Also, Mr. Walsh has the availability of government funding, which would never have been available to us (the diocese),” Dupont said.

Speaking of the disposition of the buildings in 2002-2004, Dupont said that, while it was regrettable that the diocese was not able to reutilize the property, “It is a good thing that we found in Denis Walsh a partner who is able to bring new life to these buildings.”

Holyoke Catholic High School now is permanently sited on Springfield Street in downtown Chicopee.

For more on this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.