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France first as ex-jail set to transform into student accommodation

Students should have little problem locking themselves away to study

The prison last held inmates in 1992, but the building dates back to 1857. The project will include 77 new rooms for students, plus communal spaces Pic: Dan Henson / Shutterstock

A 19-century former prison near Nice is set to be transformed into student accommodation.

The €4.5million project in Grasse (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) is expected to take between 18 and 24 months to complete.

It is the first time in France that a former prison has been turned into student accommodation.

It will have 77 apartments - sized between 14m2 and 23m2 - and spread across two buildings. The first is the former prison itself, while the second will be newly constructed. The accommodation is also set to have a communal lounge area, plus WiFI, Netflix, and a co-working space. 

The 100% private project is to be called Néo Campus, and it is being spearheaded by the MJ Développement company, in partnership with the Grasse Mairie and a Bâtiments de France architect, Gilles Giovenco. 

While the dirty and basic cells will be transformed into fully-equipped and functional living spaces, some of the prison’s original features will be preserved. 

Michaël Ruel, president of MJ Développement, told Nice-Matin that cell doors and railings will be kept, for example. 

“The idea is to create a shared living space, to write a new story”, he said.

Mr Giovenco said: “Transforming a prison world into a warm and welcoming world for young people while maintaining the [original] spirit of the place, is a real challenge.”

The prison first opened in 1857 and last held inmates in 1992. It was bought by couple Mélanie and Grégory Routier in 2017, who had plans to change it into an escape game centre. 

However, the 1,700m2 building changed owners a month ago for its new project, with the developer entrusting the building to Toulouse-based property management company Elyade. 

Louis-Henri Capel, director of development at Elyade, said: “The aim is to create partnerships with the higher education schools in Grasse. It’s our asset, but it will be their common space.”

Mayor of Grasse, Jérôme Viaud, said he was very happy to see the “exemplary project come to fruition”, and said that it was only one stage of a longer-term, multi-phase plan.

He said: “We've banked on young people to help make the city centre more attractive. We are aiming for 2,000 students. After the campus and the residence, we will soon move on to phase three: the renovation of the former gendarmerie, which will become our second campus.”

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