The fire-damaged premises pictured in 2008.

Sheltered housing scheme for elderly planned for Marist building

Housing agency Tuath has unveiled ambitious plans to convert a fire-damaged building on the grounds of Athlone's Marist College into a sheltered housing scheme.

The €6m proposal, which includes the conversion of the existing Our Lady's Hermitage building into housing units, was outlined in detail in an advertisement placed on the eTenders website in recent days seeking design consultancy services for the project.
Tuath, a voluntary housing association, says the development would provide a 'compatible living' sheltered scheme for elderly tenants and those with similar needs, with up to 46 one-and two-bedroom units being proposed between the existing building and a newly constructed building.
A communal outdoor area and a day services centre are also mentioned in the documents.
While access to the Hermitage Building, off Retreat Road, is currently shared with the neighbouring Marist College, the project would incorporate a separate entrance and route for the development.
The total estimated cost for the conversion of the existing building is almost €6.3 million.
The old school building, known as Our Lady's Hermitage, is described in the documents as a “detached three-storey over-basement house, built circa 1810”. The former dwelling was converted to a secondary school circa 1900, when a three-storey Gothic-style basement extension was added. The latest renovation of the building was in 1945.
While the building has been vacant for a number of years, it was damaged by a major fire in March 2018. The Marist Brothers recently applied for permission to repair the damage caused to the building at that time, including the fitting of new timber windows and reconstruction of floors, roof and walls of the building, which is a protected structure.
As reported by the Westmeath Independent in early January, this planning application also referred to a potential proposal by Tuath to convert the entire former boarding school to housing units.
The tarmac in front of the Hermitage Building is currently used by parents for parking, and the changing rooms serving the school playing pitches are built against the back wall of the cottages to the rear of the building.
Tuath's proposal includes the demolition of the changing rooms, as well as various sheds, handball alleys and other secondary buildings. Most of the carpark would be moved away from the building, and a second 'bypass' road constructed for school traffic. A boundary would be created to clearly mark the housing development as separate from school lands.
A total of 28 residential units are proposed for the existing building: seven each on the lower ground floor, upper ground floor, first floor and second floor. While two-bedroom units have been prioritised where possible, the narrowness of the building and the position of hallways means some one-bed units are also proposed.
For the new buildings, the plans say it would be possible to construct up to 18 units in four three-storey blocks, each with two two-bed units per floor. However, they say a higher density could be agreed with Westmeath County Council.
The plans also mention the possibility of providing day service at basement level, or alternatively including a new purpose-built day service building for social and support activities.
It is emphasised that all works to the Hermitage Building must be in line with Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines.
While Tuath is the contracting authority for the project, the documents highlight that the association is “working with The Marist Brothers and Westmeath County Council in connection with the proposed redevelopment of the Marist College Site in Athlone”.