Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Mary E. Wells School was designed by the renowned Boston-based architectural firm Peabody and Sterns and built in two major phases between 1916 and 1923, with a modest addition to the rear of the building in the 1980s. As the first public high school in Southbridge, Massachusetts, it functioned continuously as an educational resource for nearly a century until it was vacated in 2012. The historic structure sat dormant until 2020, when the firm began the adaptation of the 117,655 square foot building into the Residences at Wells School, a $25.3M mixed-income community comprised of 62 one-and two-bedroom units for active seniors 55 and older.
Not only is this new housing resource deeply rooted in the city’s history, creating a sense of belonging and pride for its residents, but it also provides Southbridge with much-needed mixed-income housing, enabling seniors earning 30% to 60% less than the Area Median Income (AMI) to live side-by-side with seniors with higher incomes. The result? The revitalization of a struggling downtown core with new housing to 1) spur economic growth, 2) maintain the city’s unique architectural charm, and 3) preserve the essence of an inspiring educational structure for generations to come.
To preserve the original layout, classroom spaces and common rooms were adapted to residential use. The team rehabilitated the lightwell and courtyard at the center of the school to provide natural light. Windows and doors were replaced with historically accurate, energy-efficient replicas.
The adaptive reuse of Residences at Wells School maintained the original design by replicating original façade elements, windows, and doors based on historic imagery. The interiors incorporate historic elements such as the original gymnasium floor, scoreboard, and repurposed memorabilia wall art.
The community is deeply rooted in the city’s history, creating a sense of pride for its residents. The management team partners with Tri-Valley Elder Services, as part of an Enhanced Support Services Program that provides information, referral, and care management services for community residents.