Vinton Elementary School Reborn As Upscale Apartments

Local dignitaries and project personnel cut the ribbon on the ne Roland E. Cook apartments.
Local dignitaries and project personnel cut the ribbon on the new Roland E. Cook apartments.

A former elementary school that many older Vintonites attended has come back to life as the Roland E Cook Lofts, 21 upscale apartments in a century-old massive structure that retains the flavor of the former school. This was a necessity in part to remain eligible for state and federal historic tax credits that helped developer Old School Partners pay for the three million dollar makeover.

The former Cook Elementary School – sold by Roanoke County for ten dollars to the development group led by Dale Wilkinson – is also on the National Historic Register, providing yet another hoop to jump through compliance-wise during the makeover.

The result? Wide hallways remain from the school; some of the units have 14’ high ceilings and tall windows with sweeping views of the mountains. The Cook Lofts are within easy walking distance of downtown Vinton’s core shopping district, and with rents at $775 and up (1 or 2 bedrooms) were close to being full by the time the ribbon was cut in mid-July.

Vinton District Supervisor Jason Peters said there were vacant buildings “all across the county” when he came aboard four years ago. He was pleased to see the building’s rebirth: “breathe new life into the building, put it back on the tax rolls.” He now looks forward to the remodeling of the old William Byrd High School into approximately 75-100 apartments, a process that will start soon.

“There’s so many things we can do to create that walkable community here in Vinton. I think it’s going to be a great asset to this part of the county.” Peters sees what the downtown Roanoke apartment boom has meant for businesses there: “I think we can create that on a smaller scale here in Vinton.”

Vinton Mayor Brad Grose recalled a public meeting where input was requested on what should be down with the old Cook school, which had been shuttered for years at that point. “What we heard that day was that it’s our building, we want to keep that building, it’s part of our neighborhood, it’s part of Vinton and it’s part of us. I’m thrilled that we were able to do that.”

The ribbon cutting was held in what is now a community room; there’s a stage and a basketball floor in what was once an auditorium. The tax credit guidelines meant those features must be preserved and it was not turned into apartments. An interesting tidbit: Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton, who once lived in Vinton, sang on that same stage as a youngster.

Grose also called it “an example of how public-private partnerships should work. We’ve been able to retain the charm of this building and make it functional for the future. It provides a very important, significant link with our past as it points towards a really exciting future.”

Dale Wilkinson, the Old School Partner developer, said he had been involved in projects all over the country: “this building presented an opportunity. There’s not been a more cooperative public-private partnership.” Wilkinson vowed at the ribbon cutting that he will do other projects in Vinton, so stay tuned.

Gene Marrano