The old playground area of the former Bonne Terre Elementary complex might be free of kickball and tetherball games these days, but it’s definitely still active — not with kids letting off steam, but with dozens of Parkview Apartment units for parents and grandparents, part of a complex that had begun being renovated in 2005 by visionary Sharo Shirshekan, and that he deeded to the city in 2016 for the price of $1.
The transition from schools to apartments began 14 years ago when local developer and businessman Shirshekan got the deed to the North County school buildings, which included the former Bonne Terre High School (later junior high) and Bonne Terre Elementary School buildings that run along Benham and Allen streets.
By 2014, Shirshekan had made great headway, with what he estimated was only about 6 months’ worth of construction left, but the renovation had stalled due to the number of other projects demanding his attention at the time. In January 2016, the city accepted his donation of the complex for $1, and the apartments began to take shape in earnest again.
Bonne Terre City Administrator Shawn Kay said at last month’s city council meeting that construction is almost completely finished, with only a few screen doors to be installed and only 12 of 63 apartments remaining to be rented.
“The apartments are past the point of self-sustaining, financially,” he said.
Parkview Manager Cher Robinson said that, since she started managing the complex May 1, she’s added 10 or 11 new tenants.
“One day, I had six viewings that were all walk-in. It’s nice to see the apartments filling up,” she said. “A lady was moving in and when she invited me in to see what she’d done, she had king beds in each of her bedrooms, but she still had plenty of space left over. It’s amazing the amount of furniture she was able to put into the place and still have so much room left.”
The apartments are 1,500-2,400 square feet, with rent ranging $450-$650 per month. The application fee and background check are $25 per person, with a $500 deposit required. Each unit includes two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a utility room with a washer-dryer hookup, a sunroom, and central heat and air. Kitchen appliances are included, and each unit comes with its own garage. Rent includes water, sewer and trash, while electric is separate. The dwellings are set up for cable TV.
There’s no longer an age minimum of 45 for tenants, but the majority are seniors, Robinson said.
“I have about 14 or 15 people on a wait list for ground-level apartments,” she said. “There are stairs to climb to the upper level.”
Former students of the elementary, junior high or high school might remember the flights of stairs throughout the buildings — many of the railings on the staircases are still intact.
“I had a group of about seven teachers come through to tour the buildings,” she said, “and they were so sweet, it was really fun. They all wanted to figure out where their classrooms were. One gentleman joked about renting the apartment where his classroom used to be.”
Robinson is also director of Bonne Terre Senior Nutrition Center, a position she took in January 2017. The proximity of the apartments to the center — housed in the old multipurpose room that once hosted junior high dances — is convenient to many of the tenants.
“The senior center is an amenity that’s available to them Monday through Friday, and we rent it out for various events,” she said. “Now that the apartments are getting fuller, tenants are using the outdoor patio space for cookouts on Memorial Day and Fourth of July.”
While the apartments have no age minimum, senior center customers need to be 60 and older, although guests – especially kids and grandkids — are very welcome. There’s a library corner, there are events like last month’s quilt show, “and Bingo is a big draw, everybody loves Bingo,” Robinson said.
In addition to the senior center, residents can get a sense of safety. The Bonne Terre Police Department and the city hall of their landlord, the City of Bonne Terre, are on-premises. All in all, it’s home-sweet-home for dozens of Bonne Terre residents.
“It’s got a bit of a school feel for sure, but it’s also very homey,” Robinson said. “The tenants have made things really nice in their apartments. Everyone talks about how quiet it is here, they really appreciate that.”