By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 05, 2023 at 9:01 AM

Listen to the Urban Spelunking Audio Stories on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

Anyone who follows my work knows I've been borderline (?) obsessed with the once-threatened former McKinley Elementary School, 2001 W. Vliet St., that's currently being renovated into 39 veterans housing units.

You can see what I've previously written about the building and the project here.


My most recent visit was in August, when construction of the apartments was well underway. With the new planned completion date approaching – tenants should be able to begin moving in around March – I stopped back at the start of the new year for a progress report.

I will, of course, return when the building is finished to show you the final product, as Gorman & Co. has worked with Quorum Architects to give a literally crumbling complex of former school buildings new life as affordable housing for veterans and their families.

Click the link above to my August article for background on construction dates, how the building came to be abandoned and then, in 2017, purchased by Oregon, Wisconsin-based Gorman.

Much progress has taken place on the 38 two- and three-bedroom apartments and one one-bedroom apartment since my last visit, especially in the units themselves.

Windows are in, floors are refinished (though not yet in the corridors), some walls are painted, kitchens and bathrooms are being installed and more.

Some apartments are very large and boast a variety of interesting details, like original millwork and often extremely tall interior doorways.


Original floors, millwork, railings, a quirky stairwell balcony and other details also survive in the corridors and stairwells.

The former gym maintains its exposed supports, bolstered by weighty decorative brackets.


In some units, former cloakrooms have been repurposed as laundry rooms that can also serve as walk-in closets or even small bonus rooms. One former cloakroom space is designed as a walk-in closet but has a window and is large enough to be a home office.

Units in the boxy 1958 addition will have big windows that open to provide a patio vibe.

Thanks to light courts and copious windows, the corridors and apartments – even garden units on the lower level – are bright.


The corridors haven't yet been entirely painted, leaving them in a quirky middle stage, where some areas look pristine, while, inches away, some of the ubiquitous graffiti that had covered the interior can still be seen. It will all be painted over.

That includes, rather sadly, the beautiful artistic graffiti that adorns the doors of an original corridor cabinet. The cabinet will be saved, but painted.


Outside, the masonry repair – no small task, as bricks were literally popping out of the exterior – and exterior painting have mostly been done and the result is beautiful, publicly heralding the transformation.

Two parking lots have been paved and striped, and a future rain garden/bioswale – for stormwater management – dug, but not yet planted.

A row of detached houses will be built on the northern edge of the property, along Vliet Street, but work has not yet begun on that phase.

Here are some more photographs of what I saw on this week's visit. Stay tuned for a first look at the final product this spring.

Corridor with windows on a light court


An apartment with original woodwork


Gym doorway


The main staircase


Patio window vibes


Bioswale/rain garden

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.