Here’s one benefit of historic restoration work: Interesting people sometimes come to your groundbreaking. In autumn 2005, the Alexander Co., a development company based in Madison, Wis., gathered its partners and community leaders for the start of construction at the National Park Seminary, which for the first half of the 1900s was one of the most elite all-girls finishing schools in the nation.

Ten graduates of the school game to the ceremony. “They were sitting out there in the front row in their mink hats and mink stoles,” remembered Natalie Bock, development project manager for Alexander Co.

After the speeches the ladies, now in their 80s or older, wandered the grounds. The wooded campus is sprinkled with cottages in a fantastic range of architectural styles ranging from a Dutch windmill to a Japanese pagoda. The structures soon will be rehabbed to become single-family homes, while the main building of the old school, with its turrets and chapel and ballroom, will be turned into a mix of more than a hundred affordable and luxury rental apartments and condominiums, in addition to a transitional housing project for recently homeless men. The work is expected to be finished by the spring of 2008.

Several elderly soldiers also came to the groundbreaking. They had lived at the National Park Seminary after the U.S. Army took over the campus in the 1940s and turned it into a place for veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to recover. One Air Force vet is now considering buying one of the cottages.

Originally published in Affordable Housing Finance Magazine by Bendix Anderson. Click here to read the complete article.