On a frigid Monday afternoon three days before Thanksgiving, Richard Sudall was coming home.

Or, to be accurate, the veteran builder was only a few blocks away from the house in Upper Darby where he grew up.

In the parking lot behind St. Alice's Social Center on Hampden Road, which Nolen Development Group of Philadelphia is converting to 53 apartments for senior citizens, Sudall remembered what life was like there 50 years ago.

"There were six priests living in the [St. Alice's] rectory," said Sudall, who has been Nolen's director of operations since 2006.

"There were 12 Masses every Sunday, starting at 6 a.m.," he said. "There were 20 tough and good nuns in the convent - they had to be tough with 1,000 pupils, especially the boys, in classes that were never smaller than 60."

St. Alice's parish, once the center of Upper Darby's Irish and Italian Bywood neighborhood, was merged with St. Laurence in July 2013 by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"I was shocked to see my elementary-school alma mater on the list" of parish closings, he said, "and called the archdiocese and offered to purchase the two school buildings" for conversion to affordable senior apartments.

The parish campus, in what is now a predominantly Vietnamese neighborhood "with a good ethnic mix," according to Sudall, is targeted for what officials who gathered for the November groundbreaking described as much-needed housing for the elderly.

Once its transformation is complete, the now-deteriorating social-center building will offer one-bedroom apartments for low-income and disabled or handicapped seniors.

Veterans will be encouraged to sign up for housing managed by Presby's Inspired Life of Lafayette Hill, which will handle applications for the units.

The four-story building will include a community room with a kitchen and a computer lab, laundry facilities on every floor, offices for on-site management and services to assist residents, a medical-screening room for visiting doctors and health-care workers, and a conference room for resident education opportunities

Representatives of local veterans groups participated in a ceremony honoring Gabriele V. Guglielmo, a longtime resident and decorated veteran of World War II, for whom the building will be named. Guglielmo died in October at the age of 99.

The social-center conversion is the first phase of the Alician Senior Apartments project.

Sudall and James A. Nolen IV, the principal in the development group, said they hoped to convert the much larger school building to senior housing down the road.

Upper Darby officials granted the permits and variances needed for the conversion, Sudall said.

Nolen is using $978,000 in state tax credits awarded by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
"The project will offer seniors "safe, quality and affordable housing," said Nancy Twyman, manager of PHFA's Norristown office.

State Rep. Margo L. Davidson (D., Delaware), was largely responsible for securing the tax credits.

"Fourteen percent of Upper Darby residents are senior citizens," Davidson said. "Many of them come to my office concerned about high rents and substandard living conditions of many apartments."

Nolen said following the "meticulous rules" of the PHFA in use of the tax credits "makes it harder than building market-rate housing."

Wells Fargo is providing the construction loan for the $10 million project.

Upper Darby Mayor Thomas N. Micozzie, whose "dad danced here, but not with my mom, who was from Massachusetts," said Sudall was an example "of local people who are the heart and soul of these projects."

"This building is just four blocks from the 69th Street rejeuvenation," he said, "and just one example of the good things that are going on here."

215-854-2472@alheavens