• By Tim Bryant St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    An unwanted St. Louis public school redone as loft apartments is three-fourths occupied after just a few months of accepting tenants.

    Advantes Development transformed the 110-year-old Lafayette School, at 915 Ann Avenue in Soulard, as 36 apartments. Brian Minges, who owns the company, said Thursday he is pleased with the project's acceptance in the neighborhood.

    Classrooms turned into lofts have the latest in apartment living but retain the school's original maple floors. Advantes paid $800,000 for the vacant elementary school, then spent about a year and $3.5 million redoing it.

    In St. Louis and elsewhere, declining school enrollments force administrators to mothball or close buildings that otherwise would require heating, cooling and upkeep even if only half full of students.

    Lafayette, which closed in 2004, is among city schools that, as a bonus, have designs by William Ittner, the St. Louis architect who, more than a century ago, transformed school architecture with light-filled classrooms, wide hallways, libraries and intricate exterior brickwork.

    The principal’s office at Lafayette is now the residents’ laundry but the school's marble and travertine entrance, broad staircases and maple-floored hallways are restored to meet historic tax credit requirements.

    Advantes already is at work on another school conversion. The company owns Sherman School, built in 1898 at 3942 Flad Avenue, in the Shaw neighborhood. Minges said his company is in the middle of turning Sherman into apartments.