ISHPEMING – There’s nothing particularly unusual about reusing a vacant building, but the former C.L. Phelps Middle School in Ishpeming has an innovative reuse plan under way.

If it goes forward, the building will eventually combine an early childhood development center along with affordable housing.

The Phelps school was closed in December 2010, and all of the students and teachers were moved to the old Central Elementary, which is part of the Ishpeming High School, to save money and cut costs. A little more than a year later, Ishpeming Public Schools entered a purchase agreement with Phoenix Holding/G.A. Haan Development of downstate Harbor Springs.

Ben Ide, development director for Haan Development, said the company has plans for affordable housing on the second and third floors of the building and an early childhood development center run by the Marquette County YMCA.

“We were contacted by the YMCA and asked if the program could go in the building,” Ide said. “We were more than happy to put the program there because having apartments and an early childhood program would be great and go together well.”

Haan Development sent a letter of intent to the Ishpeming Board of Education, which was approved at its December meeting. The developers sent another letter of intent to the YMCA board. According to Lisa Coombs Gerou, chief executive director of Marquette County YMCA, the board has yet to approve the letter of intent.

“The Haan group, I imagine, is laying out the plans and will come back to us with numbers and then we’ll go from there,” Gerou said. “We think it’s a great idea to have apartments and a YMCA program in the same building, but we need to make sure the building is economically feasible first.”

Gerou said the board is waiting to see what the cost of operating their program in the Phelps school will be before approving the letter of intent.

Gerou said there are many reasons why the YMCA thinks the Phelps school is a great location for a west end early childhood program.

“The facility is in a good location downtown, was used previously for an early childhood program and was previously licensed,” Gerou said.

The building’s previous license means little would have to be done to bring the space up to code in order to get the building relicensed for the YMCA, Gerou said. According to Gerou, the Y plans to open an early childhood development center similar to the one it operates at the former Vandenboom school in Marquette Township.

Haan Development entered a year-long purchase agreement with the Ishpeming Public Schools in May 2012 for $200,000, according to Ishpeming Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Piereson. That agreement ends in May. Haan Development asked the Ishpeming Board of Education to extend the agreement to Dec. 31, and the board unanimously approved the extension Friday.

According to Ide, Haan Development plans to purchase the building in the fall and start construction immediately. Construction could be finished as early as fall 2014.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is