Design Alabama
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Howell School Converted Into Affordable Senior Housing

A majestic Romanesque Revival building that served as Dothan’s main grammar school from the turn of the 20th century to the early 1940s is being converted into affordable housing for seniors.

The long-discussed Historic Howell Senior Apartments is a public/private partnership with the city of Dothan and is underway with the help of state and federal historic tax credits. Construction is scheduled to begin late January or early February.

Project architect Joseph Donofro of Donofro Architecture in Dothan sees the transformation of the Howell School as a way to bring much needed economic development to this area and is a reason why the city was interested in partnering.

The school building will house 23-25 senior apartments. Two additional buildings will bring the total number of units to about 55. The Howell School, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be the focal point of the complex.

This was Dothan’s second public school, constructed in 1898 at the cost of $15,000. A fire destroyed the building, which was rebuilt in 1903 and in 1916 named the Howell School in honor of Dr. J.R.G. Howell, a local physician who served as mayor of Dothan in 1898. The building later served several functions, including a pajama factory.

Donofro calls the masonry building “a gorgeous piece of work” and to his knowledge the only building in the region with terracotta trim. Other notable features include pressed tin cornices and overhangs.

The project, he says, is a “win-win; affordable senior housing and the restoration of a national gem.” He praises project developer Rob Coats of The Banyan Foundation in Birmingham for making it happen.

“He took a gamble, jumped in and has spent many hours making sure the project was economically viable.”

The Howell School project is part of resurgence in the core area of Dothan, Donofro adds. The city’s old Coca-Cola bottling plant is to become an entertainment venue and Donofro would like to see residential lofts downtown.


Image 1- The Howell School as it appeared in 1926. The school closed in 1942 when another elementary school opened. It was then used as a sewing plant for the Dothan Manufacturing Company and most recently sat long vacant.

Image 2- First floor plan- Instead of classrooms, the masonry old school building is now planned for affordable apartments for seniors. The facility will be for independent, not assisted living.

Image  3: Project architect Joseph Donofro has been part of the effort to make the Howell School project a reality for roughly 10 years. The building was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Image 4: The Howell School and two other buildings set for construction are slated to offer affordable housing for seniors. The project is viewed as a catalyst for improvements to the blocks surrounding the old school building.


*Article By Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of Donofro Architects.




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