Written by The Business Journal Staff
Local developer Cliff Tutelian’s company has taken on the project, located at the corner of Broadway and Stanislaus streets, and is painstakingly renovating the structure in an effort to preserve the neighborhood’s character and historic architecture.
“We are keeping the building’s style and grace while turning it into something that’s going to be valuable to the community,” said Alex Mellor, marketing director at Tutelian & Co.
The new building will feature 20 state-of-the-art classrooms and be home to students and staff of the Kepler Neighborhood School, a tuition-free K-8 grade charter school founded in Downtown Fresno in 2013.
When the project is complete sometime later this year, the former 24,000-square-foot structure — once the headquarters of the Parker-Nash car dealership, one of Fresno’s first car dealers — will be transformed into a 37,000-square-foot building.
The 50 percent boost in square footage will be achieved by adding second story space earmarked to include a new science lab, Mellor said.
Kepler’s current facility is just a few blocks from the construction site, located at 1537 Fulton St. Some 300 students currently attend the charter school. When the new school opens in early 2018, enrollment will expand to accommodate as many as 400 students, according to Mellor.
Tutelian’s design for the new facility, which the company will lease to Kepler, preserves the building’s century-old architectural flavor, incorporating original features like large window frames, arched columns and elaborate masonry work.
“This building is a landmark for the area,” Mellor said. “We really didn’t want to destroy it and build an eyesore or something that didn’t fit with the rest of the neighborhood.”
So while gutting much of the structure’s interior, including large portions of the roof, construction workers have braced the building’s exterior brick walls and will incorporate them into the renovation project.
“A retrofit on a building this old gets quite complicated with the amount of structural upgrades that need to take place,” said Errol Upton, construction manager on the project. “We’re trying to keep as much of the ornate architecture and design work as we can.”
Because the building is not listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, it is not eligible for historic preservation tax credits, Mellor said. “The only benefit we receive is in managing to maintain a beautiful old exterior, and ensure that the character of Downtown Fresno is not lost.”
Tutelian has plenty of experience bringing older buildings back to life. The company has spent the past ten years — and millions of dollars — restoring the historic, 10-story Grand 1401 office tower in Downtown Fresno, where the company also maintains its office, just a few doors down from the California High-Speed Rail Authority and a few floors below Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons, the contractor for Construction Package 1 of the bullet train project.
“We take pride in being a very detail-oriented company,” Mellor said. “We want everything we do to be the highest quality.”
“Our primary focus right now is as a developer,” Mellor added. “We’re looking to do a lot more projects downtown. At Tutelian, we’re really committed to the revival of Downtown Fresno. We want it to be a place where young families and businesses can move in to and feel comfortable.”
As part of the charter school project, Tutelian is also redeveloping a half-acre empty lot directly across Broadway from the school construction site. That parcel is slated to become a park and outdoor play space for the Kepler students.
The school will also include a kitchen area and cafeteria, gymnasium and science lab, which is an integral component of Kepler’s so-called “service-learning”-style curriculum, which emphasizes “hands-on” labs and workshops and “curriculum-relevant learning through active community involvement.”
“Studies show that students involved in service-learning have improved academic grades and higher-order thinking skills,” states the school’s website.
Another new public charter school is also scheduled to open in Downtown Fresno in the fall of 2016.
The Aspen Public School, which will be modeled after Valley Preparatory Academy Charter School, will be located across the street from St. John’s Catholic Church at 2811 Mariposa St.
Lisa Taylor, site director for the new school, said Aspen Charter will initially start out with classes for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade school and will then add a new grade every year.
Fresno Unified’s board of trustees granted the new downtown charter school an initial one-year approval to operate at a meeting in January.