CANTON — Kynsey Wilson and Sean McArdle’s future home is a fixer-upper.
The couple purchased the former Wells Elementary School for $35,000 in February. The brick building with broken windows has sat empty for more than a decade.
There have been several failed attempts to develop the three-story structure at 617 McKinley Ave. SW. Wilson and McArdle, who live in Canton and also own property in Bolivar, are not developers. They have grand ideas but said they’re “realistic.”
“The first step is we’re cleaning,” Wilson said.
Constructed in 1926, the school became Canton City School District offices by 1983. It closed in 2008 and has remained empty.
The Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority bought the building for $75,000 in 2012. The agency didn’t conduct environmental studies required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before the purchase, so federal funding was unavailable. Demolition or senior housing also weren't feasible options, according to past reports.
SMHA tried to develop apartments, senior housing and then permanent supportive housing. The most recent plan would have served people who were homeless, disabled, abused, low income, transitioning from foster care or families who could be unified with housing.
“It was met with just overwhelming opposition from the people who live in the neighborhood, saying that 'we don’t want those people in our neighborhood,' and subsequently, we didn’t receive the support that we needed to move forward,” SMHA Executive Director Herman Hill said.
Expecting similar opposition to any future plans, SMHA sold the property in May 2018 for about $50,000. Hill said it was a missed opportunity for the community as well as a financial setback.
“It was a loss,” he said.
Less than a year later, the private individual sold the Wells property to Wilson and McArdle in much the same state.
Wilson, who has two sons, and McArdle, who has two daughters, were seeking a place with a lot of space to move their family. They’ve renovated properties before but nothing on this scale.
“We still don’t really know what we’re going to do with it,” Wilson said.
Wilson works for the American National Insurance Co. to establish agencies in Northeast Ohio. McArdle is a graphic designer, photographer and writer.
In addition to living in the old school building, the couple plans to work there. There’s already a makeshift workspace — a long, wooden table and chairs — in a first-floor room.
Wilson said she’ll start working at Wells next week. McArdle has a room picked for a potential studio.
The couple debated the merits of each space, whether it’d be a better bedroom or kitchen, for example, within the “residential wing” and “kid condo.”
“We’re just basically taking a whole hallway,” Wilson said.
They don’t expect to move in until next year. With help from Wilson’s father and “neighbors, new friends,” the couple said they have cleaned feces-covered floors and removed metal hanging from the ceiling. They are replacing windows and working on “curb appeal” and soon will install Wi-Fi for security cameras, Wilson said.
“We’ve gotten a lot done,” she said.
They still need to deal with debris-littered floors, walls with obscene graffiti and peeling paint and asbestos. Wilson said she expects it to cost “a lot” and take time. McArdle said they’re researching contractors and estimates for the work.
They’re debating what to do with the rest of the building but said future plans might include renting out the gym or units through Airbnb, which would require a zoning change. Wilson said she’d like to donate part of the property for a community garden and, ideally, turn a portion of the roof into a bar.
“We have tons of ideas,” she said.
Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kbyerREP.