CHELSEA — Three decades after its creation, the city's first public housing for the blind will soon get $38 million worth of renovations, helping bring the complex into the 21st century.
Officials at Selis Manor broke ground Monday on the improvement project at 135 W. 23rd St., which will add a new entrance, renovate each apartment and overhaul the building's heating, air conditioning, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
"We'll be getting completely new apartments," said Joyce Carrico, 71, the president of the building's tenants association. "It's like moving into a new place without a rent increase or having to look for it."
The 14-story building opened in 1980 and has 205 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments for residents who are visually impaired. The facility was originally built with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and operates under HUD's Section 8 program.
The building, which also hosts programs for blind people who aren't residents, has a rooftop terrace, a courtyard, bowling alley, fitness center, computer center, library and auditorium.
The HUD-funded upgrades are the result of a yearslong consulting, design and financing process. Magnusson Architecture and Planning came up with the designs and then built three-dimensional models of the new apartment layouts so that residents could touch them and give feedback.
Each apartment will get brand-new fixtures and accessible appliances, including voice-controlled thermostats that will allow tenants to control the temperature of their apartments. The apartments will be overhauled two floors at a time, and tenants will be temporarily moved to Stuyvesant Town for the two to three months that the work on their homes will take, officials said.
The building's facade will also be overhauled, and a separate entrance will be constructed for tenants, while visitors coming for VISIONS Services for the Blind will use the existing entrance, easing traffic in the main hallway. A new elevator will run between the first floor and a public activity area, and a freight elevator will be added for garbage collection.
The design also adds a new guardrail along West 23rd Street that will be covered in Braille detailing the history of Selis Manor and guiding people toward the entrance.
"At the end of the day, when we're finished this, this is going to be the greatest building in the city," said Joe Malewich, a member of Selis Manor's board.
Officials expect the project to finish by 2016.