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Lowell's Varnum School morphs into veterans housing

June 15, 2015 : Lowell Sun, by Melissa Hanson

LOWELL - The Varnum School has been transformed from a vacant building in Centralville to a beautiful, spacious building aimed at housing veterans and improving the neighborhood.

Owners Rick and Tom Underwood executed a massive revival of the dated building over the course of 2 1/2 years. 

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, the Underwoods and local officials remarked on the private-public partnership utilized to perfect the project. Such partnerships are known for creating profitable development in Lowell.

"I think this project is the epitome of the city," Mayor Rodney Elliott said of the success of the Underwoods, Washington Savings Bank, and MassDevelopment working together to create the new apartments. 

"We really felt committed to this project," said Jim Hogan, chief executive officer of Washington Savings Bank. "It's really a part of the city we felt strongly about." 

Inside the building, 21 housing units replace old classrooms. Though the appliances are new, the floorboards are original, and other touches of the school, like blackboards, peek through the design. 

"It really takes a village to get projects like this done," said Ken Goode of MassDevelopment. 

"This was not a little project.

This was a mammoth," said Ann Marie Page, a board member of the Centralville Neighborhood Action Group and the vice president of the City Wide Neighborhood Council. Not only does the revival enhance the neighborhood, but it will assist residents who protected the country. 

"We owe our veterans so much," Page said. "We're here because of our veterans." 

Any veterans interested in renting one of the units will have an open and fair market, according to Kevin E. Coughlin, Lowell's deputy director of planning and development. 

The Varnum School, which is on Myrtle Street, housed students in grades 4-9 and later housed grades K-4. 

John Grondalski, who graduated ninth grade from the Varnum in 1964, toured the building, reminiscing on his days as a student there. 

"They kept the integrity of the building," said Grondalski, who is a consultant on urban planning. Wearing the pin from his ninth-grade graduation, he pointed out his old homeroom. 

Grondalski noticed that the floorboards were the same as when he was a student, and praised the Underwoods for utilizing the school's resources. 

"I think it's part of the neighborhood's character," Elliott said.

"We look forward to getting some veterans in here."