Finlandia funding new school with redevelopment of old one

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Tentative plans are being made to develop the top floor of the former Hancock Middle School into apartments, with proceeds from the sale going towards the cost of Finlandia University's College of Health Sciences classrooms on the other floors.

Potential plans for the development of the former Hancock Middle School into the Finlandia University College of Health Sciences include the sale of the top floor to a developer to be turned into apartments in order to fund the rest of development.

City manager Barry Givens is optimistic about the project’s feasibility.

“Nothing’s for certain, but I’m very confident within the next few months we’re going to see something publicly released that this project’s going to happen,” Givens told the Downtown Development Authority on Monday.

“We acquired this building as part of a project called Campus and Community Together for Good,” Finlandia University President Philip Johnson said.

It has been almost 10 years since the property ownership was transferred to Finlandia from Hancock Public Schools (HPS) in exchange for scholarships for HPS graduates as part of the program. Johnson said the building has been largely unused, other than occasional events in the auditorium or gymnasium.

“It’s taken too long for us to realize our intentions for that building,” Johnson said.

The new plan, which involves turning the top floor into an independent condominium, will help Finlandia move forward with development of the bottom three floors into classrooms and labs that will house their nursing and physical therapist assistant programs and other programs associated with the College of Health Sciences. The hope is classes would start there sometime during the 2020-21 school year.

“It mimics what the university did with the old hospital which is called now the Jutila Center,” Johnson said.

The building, originally constructed in 1923, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. That opens up the possibility of federal tax credits.

Mike Lahti, owner of Mike Lahti Properties, is the developer looking to purchase the fourth floor. He said the he supported and funded the application for the historic status in part to make the tax credits available. The development will include replacing the heating system and windows.

“We’re going to be bringing the windows back to where they were,” Lahti said.

The 31 planned apartments will vary in size and layout, and include nine two-storied apartments.

“Some of them are going to be smaller studios and then there’s some one-bedroom,” Lahti said. “It will be a neat place.”

The shared hope of the city, Finlandia and Lahti is to benefit the downtown area of Hancock by bringing more people there to live and attend classes.

There’s no plan to change anything on Quincy Green, the open space in front of the building. Johnson said the programming that happens there is important to Finlandia, and wants to see it maintained and increased.

Parking on Ryan street, behind the building, in lot behind city hall and by old bus garage should be adequate to serve the new apartments, according to Givens.

“We should know in about the next six weeks if we can do it,” Lahti said.