By Rachel Lorenz
The recently landmarked Berkeley Park Chapel has a new owner—and new neighbors are next. Midtown Montessori Academy purchased the 15,449-square-foot building for $3.5 million on May 16.
Andrew Barrilleaux, director of finance for the school, said they were leasing space in the building before the sale.
“We kind of decided that the highest and best use for the chapel itself was for us to expand the school to occupy about two-thirds of the space and then continue to lease out that last third to Redemption Church of Denver,” Barrilleaux told The Denver North Star.
The church’s situation will not change, said Krista Copeland, administrator at Redemption Church Denver. It has been a tenant since March 1, 2020.
“We’re excited,” Copeland said about the new owner. “It’s going to be a great relationship.” Significant renovations are planned for the interior of the building. A new HVAC system and new flooring plus “a lot of tiny toilets” are coming, Barrilleaux said.
A roof repair is already complete, and a playground will be built. He said he hopes they’ll wrap up the first phase of construction in October and the second phase early next year. Ultimately, the school will have seven classrooms and 150 spots available for children six years old and younger.
Changes to the building’s exterior will be very limited because of its landmark status, said Laura Swartz, director of communication for Denver’s Community Planning and Development Department. Items needed for the safety of students, such as stairs and fences, will be allowed but the overall look and feel won’t be disturbed.
The purpose of landmarks is to protect the “historical gems” that shape the aesthetic and cultural history of a neighborhood, Swartz said. But the intent isn’t to restrict how buildings are used.
“We want it to have a use, and we want it to be able to contribute and give back to the community … turning it into something else where it’s still being used and enjoyed is a really, really good outcome,” Swartz said.
Built in 1960 and designed by prominent Denver architect J. Roger Musick, the former mortuary escaped demolition when it, and the 2.05 acres it sits on, was purchased by GM Development for $4.5 million in February 2020.
The building and its lawns to the west and south, about three-quarters of an acre, were designated a historic landmark five months later and then sold to Midtown Montessori Academy this spring. GM Development owns the remainder of the parcel and has submitted plans to build townhomes on what is now a parking lot to the east and north of the chapel.
Tom Simmons, who was part of Historic Berkeley Regis’ fight to preserve the building at the corner of Tennyson Street and West 46th Avenue, is not surprised by the townhome project. It would have been impractical for a buyer to purchase the land and the building but not develop a portion of it, he said.
“We didn’t really expect to be able to preserve the parking lot given the development pressures in the city,” he said. “And in order to make it economically feasible for anyone to undertake this, I think that was something that you just had to accept.”
Dave Marquez said he thinks the townhomes will have a positive effect on the neighborhood. Marquez is the owner of MmD Architecture, the architectural design company for the project.
“We took the time here to do something that was right for, you know, the pride in the community and what they were all trying to accomplish,” he said.
The three-story units, 29 in all, will have a modern brownstone look with some traditional brick and limestone accents, Marquez said. The townhomes will range in size from 1,200 to 2,000 square feet with one- or two-car attached garages.
Although a timeline for construction has not yet been set, Marquez said he hopes to have all permit applications approved by the end of July.