The wooden ceiling rises over a former chapel inside Pancratia Hall. The old Catholic school dormitory was built during the Great Depression at the Loretto Heights campus in southwest Denver.
The ceiling’s slanted slightly, at nearly a 30 degree angle, and rises to a 16-foot peak. Sunlight creeps in through stained glass windows, but only slightly; the windows are covered with plastic due to construction.
Jim Hartman was looking up at the ceiling. Last week Hartman, one of the building’s co-owners, was standing in an area that used to be an altar but will one day be someone’s living room. The unique and historic features like the wood panels, high ceilings and stained glass windows will remain when the space becomes a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment.
“The people who will get to live here will really get to live here,” Hartman said.
The spacious and ornate space will be among the 72 units — all affordable — inside the roughly 65,000-square-foot gothic-style building at Loretto Heights. Hartman said construction on the apartments started last October, and developers expect it to be completed around Halloween. He said pre-leasing could start in September, so people could start moving in by November. They’ve already gotten inquiries about rooms.
“You don’t often get the chance to work on a building of this caliber,” Hartman said.
All the units will be for people making 30 to 80 percent of the area median income, said Grant D. Bennett, a partner on the project who, like Hartman, gets to make decisions about its development. Hartman said apartments will range in size from roughly 400-square-foot studios to 1,500-square-foot apartments with four bedrooms. The new apartment complex will be called Pancratia Hall Lofts.
Pancratia’s restoration marks the start of a larger redevelopment project that will turn the 72-acre campus into what city leaders hope will be a southwest Denver destination. The master plan for the the campus will center around Pancratia and the iconic administrative tower on the campus, which sits across from the hall. The larger project will eventually include housing (townhomes and apartments), green space and mixed-used buildings where local businesses, like coffee shops and other amenities, can live.
Wide hallways, exposed brick and concrete, archways and at least one “Alice in Wonderland” staircase — that is, a staircase leading to nowhere — are other features that will stay remain in Pancratia.
However, it’s still an old building, so major upgrades are required. It needs new electrical systems, new fire sprinklers and a new elevator to become a safe, modern space.
That’s the technical stuff. The more creative stuff calls for turning previously unused space into living areas, especially for families. The former attic space, for examples, is being converted into apartments with a killer view of the campus and, on a clear day, the Rocky Mountains. On another level, patio spaces will be available for rooms being built in a former gym.
Builders are following historic standards set by the National Park Service. The NPS regulates the tax credit program being used to pay for some of the project, so developers have to follow its standards. State tax credits are also being used, and the city of Denver chipped in a $3.3 million loan for restoration.
“We’re honored to help support the historic renovation at Pancratia Hall Lofts, which will help ensure much needed affordability for 72 households in southwest Denver for decades to come,” deputy director of housing opportunity Debra Bustos said in a statement to Denverite.
Hartman said the building is not following the city’s own historic guidelines because it’s not a city landmark, at least not yet. He said builders are planning on applying for the designation later this year.
Some buildings on the campus are older than Pancratia Hall. The school was founded by the Sisters of Loretto in 1891. Hartman said he hears from people who tell him about their days attending the school. He’s even given them tours.
“The thing that’s being created here is so unique,” Hartman said.