To draw attention to the reuse potential of the historic St. James Academy, Landmarks Illinois included the building on its 2015 Most Endangered list. Thanks to local advocacy efforts and Lemont’s Historic Preservation Commission, St. James Academy was saved by local developer Rob Abbinante of Addison Properties Development and Management LLC. Addison Properties had previously developed other properties in Lemont and had been following St. James’ plight closely. Working with general contractor Sal Alfano (a Lemont native) and architect Simon Batistich, Rob met with the Diocese to come up with a mutually beneficial solution for the property. Reuse had to make sense on all ends Rob told Landmarks Illinois earlier this year. For St. James, this meant a design that provided additional parking areas—a priority for the Diocese—as well as a productive and economical reuse of the building itself.
In October 2018, the Village’s Historic Preservation Commission approved Addison Properties’ plan to redevelop St. James Academy as an apartment building featuring nine, one- and two-bedroom units. Rob’s goal for the property was to create a building that balances the historic elements of St. James Academy with practical reuse solutions. “Our strategy was to go in there to kind of design around the original spirit of the building and repurpose it so nine families could live in there,” he said.
The building retained a solid foundation and exterior so the crew was able to salvage the stone with pressure washing and tuck-pointing. Next, they worked to restore the roof, ending decades of water damage. On the interior, Rob repurposed as many items as possible, donating doors, fixtures, sinks, mattresses and other reusable pieces to Habitat for Humanity and local homeless shelters. Although salvaging and reusing such pieces sometimes required additional time and money, Rob felt it was more than worthwhile: “It was really cool to see the mattresses that the nuns slept on, instead of going into a landfill, going to the homeless,” he said. The renovation plans will now focus on the front of the building, including an update to the retention wall and floral landscaping. Rob and his team will also work on additional pressure washing so that the original Joliet-Lemont limestone can be featured with exposed interior walls. They look forward to the completion of the project in early 2020.
(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)