BRISTOL - The old Bingham School is now Bingham Place, a residence for active seniors.
“It’s quite unique,” said Ted Lazarus, partner in Bristol Enterprises LLC, which rehabbed the building. “Especially when you consider that we’re marrying something that is basically 21st and hopefully 22nd century to something that is clearly 20th century.”
Bristol Enterprises and the city held a ribbon cutting for Bingham Place Wednesday morning.
Built in 1916, Bingham had been a K-5 school and a K-8 school over the years, and at one point also housed ninth graders. Bristol Enterprises spent two years rehabbing the old school on Route 6 into 42 one-bedroom apartment units. The exterior, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been preserved.
Many of the apartments feature cabinetry, windows and segments of blackboards, reminiscent of Bingham’s old school days, heating and cooling is now provided by a combination of geothermal and solar energy sources.
“As you get a chance to walk through the building, pay special attention to the use of space - the way the individual units have been converted from what was obviously a school, with huge windows and wide corridors, into very comfortable and very attractive residential space,” Lazarus said.
“Above all look for the experience of light in the building,” he said. “I think we’ve been able to beautifully transform the light that little children had in the 1920s and ‘30s, before LEDs and other magical stuff could light up classrooms. We’ve translated that into living experiences that I think are unusual in today’s housing market.”
“They don’t build buildings like this anymore,” said Robert Cappelletti, Lazarus’s partner.
Cappelletti explained how there are now 24 geothermal wells buried 350 to 400 feet deep in the field next to the building, have water pumped through them to cool the building in summer and heat it in winter.
That will keep utility bills very low for the residents and has no environmental impact, he said. “The windows are triple paned insulated, they’re very big beautiful windows. As traffic drives by you don’t really notice unless the windows are open.”
Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said the old Bingham School was an epicenter for many immigrant families who lived in tenements on nearby North Main Street.
“The kids walked to school. They walked back home for one hour to have lunch with their families, and then they walked back for the afternoon. For most of them this was their only play area in their neighborhood. They went on to attend Bristol High School and worked at many of the factories that lined North Main Street here,” she said.
“Wouldn’t it be interesting if some of those same students ended up being residents here,” she commented.
Zoppo-Sassu said she was on the City Council in 2012 when it was deciding what to do with five old schools that were closed down. Bingham had closed in 2010, and was joined two years later by Jennings, O’Connell, Memorial Boulevard, and the old version of Greene-Hills, as the city opened the new Greene-Hills and West Bristol K-8 schools.
Bristol Hospital considered buying the old school to demolish and build a medical office building there. The Fire Department mulled it as a possible site for a new central firehouse. In the end the council sold it, along with O’Connell, to Bristol Enterprises for $219,000 for senior housing.
Zoppo-Sassu said she was “really glad that we made that right decision when we see how this project ended up.”
Susan Moreau, who was Bingham principal from 1992 to 2001, said “Bingham is one of the most special places that I ever called home.”
She recalled that everyone who has driven past the school for years knows that there used to be messages posted in the windows. “One of my favorites was ‘warm wishes from a HOT school,” she said, referring to Bingham’s old designation as a Higher Order Thinking school with an emphasis on arts education.
“I am so happy that the treasure that is this building was not torn down, but became a place where people could prosper and grow and develop friendships,” she added.
Loretta Teevan was a former Bingham teacher in the 1950s and she attended the ribbon cutting with her former seventh grade student, David Mills, now a City Council member, and former eighth grade student Nancy Roy.
She said she hadn’t been back to the building since that time but now she wanted to see her old classrooms.
Bernie O’Keefe attended Bingham School for four years back in the 1950s.
“I was a judge in school,” he recalled. “An eighth grader was always selected as judge of the court. The kids that started fights in the play area or had infractions, they had to appear in court.”
O’Keefe said was very much looking forward to seeing how the building looks now, and not just for nostalgia. He and his wife Jean Sue are thinking of maybe moving in now.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.