Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Newly renovated Morrison Building in Calumet nearly ready for apartment occupancy; visitors welcomed at Open House

By Michele Bourdieu

During the Aug. 16, 2014, Calumet Heritage celebration, an Open House at the newly renovated Morrison Building (former Morrison School) attracted potential renters for the 13 new apartments created from former classrooms -- as well as former students and teachers, who attended the event out of interest and nostalgia. Cars filled the new large parking lot (to the right of this Seventh Street entrance to the building). The new ramp at this entrance makes it handicap-accessible. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

CALUMET -- After a year of intensive remodeling, Calumet's historic Morrison School is nearly ready for residents planning to move into new, spacious apartments.

"Nine out of the 13 rentals should be occupied within two weeks," owner Mike Lahti told Keweenaw Now today.

On Aug. 16, 2014, an Open House during the Calumet Heritage celebration offered the public an opportunity to explore the two upper floors of the building, where former classrooms have been converted to one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Owner Mike Lahti along with his wife, Sharon, and his son Andy -- Andrew Lahti Contracting -- welcomed visitors on that day and handed out application forms to those interested in possibly renting one of the apartments.

Owner Mike Lahti, right, with his wife, Sharon Lahti, and their son Andy, the contractor for the renovation, welcomed visitors to an Aug. 16 Open House at the former Morrison School in Calumet -- which they have transformed into 13 apartments on the second and third floors. Visible here are the new kitchen cabinets with appliances and attractive, original wood floors. The first floor will soon be ready for office or studio occupancy. It will also have a community room for residents.

"We started (the renovation) about a year ago," Mike Lahti told Keweenaw Now during the Open House. "I've owned the building since 2006. When I bought it I put a new roof on it. It's been empty for 18 years altogether."

In 2013 MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) awarded a loan of about $455,000 (forgivable after five years) for the renovation of the building.*

Mike and Sharon Lahti chat with visitors during the Aug. 16, 2014, Open House at the former Morrison School.

Seven of the 13 apartments are subsidized for residents with low-income status (an income limit of $33,000 per year for a couple or $28,900 for a single person), Mike explained. The other six are market-priced. The rent includes natural gas heat, water and hot water as well as a plowed parking lot. The building is handicap-accessible with a wheel chair ramp at the entrance and an elevator. While attractive to senior citizens, anyone can apply for an apartment. Pets are not allowed.

Mike Lahti said today that about 10 people have spoken for the seven subsidized apartments and at least two for the market ones. Applicants for the subsidized apartments are waiting approval of income requirements, through WUPPDR (Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region), which could take about two weeks.

The first floor of the building will offer rental space for offices/studios and will have a community room for residents. Two public bathrooms on the first floor are now being completed, and three of the office/studio rentals should be available soon, Mike Lahti added.

Sherry Kinnunen of Atlantic Mine, who works for Mike Lahti Properties, operates the elevator during the Open House. The elevator is now completely self-operated.

Bernie and Claire Shute, longtime owners of Shute's Bar in Calumet, said they were considering renting a three-bedroom apartment in the building.

During the Aug. 16 Open House, Mike Lahti chats with longtime Calumet residents Bernie and Claire Shute, owners of Shute's Bar.

Many of the visitors at the Open House were former students who had attended elementary school in the building, former Morrison School teachers and employees.

"It's a beautiful building," said Shirley Slusarzyk of Calumet. "I worked in the office when Mr. (Robert) Hagar was the principal. It was kindergarten through fifth grade at that time."

Shirley Slusarzyk of Calumet, center, a former office employee at the school, and her friends Joanne Edwards, left, of Houghton (and formerly of Calumet) and Mary Lou Fink of Calumet admired the restored wood floors in the new apartments. Andrew Lahti Contracting did the floors and cabinets as well as the building renovation.

"I came because I wanted to see how they could transform classrooms into one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments," Slusarzyk added. "It's amazing!"

Slusarzyk, Fink and Edwards admired the special features of the building's handicap-accessible apartment.

Mary Lou Fink of Calumet notes the front-loading washer and dryer in one of the apartments, which is designed for the handicapped. All the apartments have washers and dryers, but this apartment has handicap-accessible features.

In the handicap-accessible apartment, Mary Lou points out the special features meant to accommodate a resident in a wheel chair -- such as the space under the sink and easily reachable stove controls.

Shirley Slusarzyk poses in the handicap-accessible shower. Similar walk-in shower stalls are provided in eight apartments that have two bathrooms.*

Ellen Torola and Carolyn Jurmu, both residents of Calumet, were exploring the spacious new apartments during the Open House and "considering possibilities" for the future.

Ellen Torola, left, and Carolyn Jurmu admire a large closet in one of the apartments in the former Morrison School.

Sharon Lahti noted she, Mike and Andy have tried to preserve the historic features of the building while modernizing it for comfort. One example is some original student artwork that has been framed by extra doorways along the hall.

Sharon Lahti explains to visitors Linda Porter, center, and Stina Wilbur, both of Calumet, how the doors that are not needed have been used as "frames" for student artwork such as this mosaic. According to local artist Mike Ramos, Morrison School former art teacher Nancy McCabe had her students make the mosaic. 

"We'll do that with all the doors that aren't used," Sharon said. "That's our art gallery."

Another historic feature preserved in some of the rooms are the original wooden cupboards that were used in the school classrooms.

Calumet residents Emily Newhouse and her husband, Mark Jindrich, right, and Mark's brother Ted, visiting from Chicago, admire one of the original antique classroom cupboards in one of the new apartments.

One visitor who came to see the school where she had been a student was Barb (Aho) Kinnunen, who said she attended the Morrison School from first through seventh grade.

Recalling that this apartment used to be a classroom, Barb (Aho) Kinnunen recounts some memories of her life as a student in the Morrison School. Her husband, Russell Kinnunen (not pictured), originally of Tapiola, accompanied her to the Open House.

"I was born and raised in Swedetown," Barb said. "We used to walk the railroad tracks to come here to school (except in the winter, of course). And we had to go home for lunch, too. There were no lunch programs then. We walked four times a day -- rain or shine and through the winters. Sometimes we held hands going home if it was storming."

Barb noted she raised her four children alone after being widowed at age 35.

"My four kids all went to school here, too," she said.

Calumet artist Mike Ramos, who used to teach at the Morrison School, tours the renovations with his wife, Phyllis, third from left, his grandchildren Alec Ramos, 12, and Abigail Ramos, 14, and Nicole (Gronlund) Binder of Calumet, right.

Nicole (Gronlund) Binder of Calumet was reminiscing about her days as a student from second to fifth grade in the Morrison School. She chatted with Mike and Phyllis Ramos of Calumet about being in a class with their son Charles (Chuck), whose children, Alec and Abigail, were visiting from Nanaimo, British Columbia. Chuck was about to arrive home from a 6000-mile sailboat adventure, Phyllis explained.

"When I walked up those steps, all the memories started coming back," Binder said. "This was a nice school. I lived nearby."

Another former teacher at the school, Hester Butler of Calumet, was unable to attend the Morrison Open House, but spoke to Keweenaw Now at a second Open House where she was volunteering on Aug. 16 -- at the Coppertown Mining Museum.

Hester Butler of Calumet, former Morrison School teacher, volunteers at the Coppertown Museum shop during their Open House during the Calumet Heritage celebration on Aug. 16, 2014. Trying on a bracelet is Debbie Sossi of Calumet Waterworks.

Butler said she taught at the school for 21 years -- fifth grade for three years and third grade the rest of the time. She retired in 1988.

"I think I liked it best the first year I taught there, because it was only one floor," Butler said. "When you went out for recess, you had all those different age levels (kindergarten through fifth grade) and they got along beautifully."

For information about renting an apartment or office/studio space in the Morrison Building call Mike Lahti at 370-3420.

*Editor's Updates: 
In our original posting of this article we incorrectly stated the amount of the MSHDA loan as about $500,000, which included administrative costs paid to WUPPDR. The actual amount awarded for the renovation was $455,000, Mike Lahti explained. Also, while one apartment is fully equipped for a handicapped resident, eight apartments have two bathrooms, one of which has a walk-in shower with two seats, similar to the shower stall shown in our photo above.

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