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Old North End Community Center, Burlington: 2024 Preservation Award

Old North End Community Center

There was a time when Burlington’s Old North End was home to a growing population of French Canadians whose parish life centered around Allen Street’s St. Joseph’s cathedral, the first national non-English speaking parish for catholics. The 1929 “Ecole Nazareth,” erected across the street and designed by renowned Burlington architect Frank Lyman Austin, was an integral part of this parish for decades, providing education for hundreds of students until enrollment dwindled and the school closed in 2010. 

The proposed sale of the school building in 2014 sent shock waves through the Old North End – the building still housed a childcare center, preschool and parent-child center that provided critical community services. 

The Champlain Housing Trust stepped in two years later to buy the property on behalf of the nonprofit tenants. Demonstrating their commitment to the community, Champlain Housing Trust installed a new elevator before the purchase was completed as lack of accessibility had left the three-story building only 50% occupied. 

Following a move to change the zoning from educational to community center use, Champlain Housing Trust soon embarked on a $4.8 million renovation. The project included energy efficiency upgrades, life and safety improvements, and restoration of historic windows, finishes, and blackboards. Updated fiber-optic wiring assures high-speed internet access for this low-income neighborhood. 

With its official conversion into a Community Center, the on-site daily activity has increased tenfold. People come for all kinds of reasons—searching for employment, housing, family reunification, English language classes, health services, refugee and immigrant assistance, cultural activities, youth programs, and more. The children’s center and family room – original tenants of the ground floor – have much-improved space and access to two outside playgrounds. A large commercial kitchen serves the building’s many uses, including monthly community suppers. 

Essential community programs were preserved and below market, affordable and flexible leases support the operations of the nonprofit tenants, who rely on low or zero fees, grants and subsidies to provide enriching services to diverse area residents. 

By saving and renovating St. Joseph’s School, Champlain Housing Trust has brought renewed purpose to the underutilized building, and enabled it to become a thriving community center that serves an estimated 4,000 people yearly. The project demonstrates that when a community has space to come together, a community grows stronger.

Preservation Award to:

Champlain Housing Trust 


Robin’s Nest Children’s Center

Janet S. Munt Family Room

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