AUGUSTA — In her new apartment above what was once the gymnasium of the former Hodgkins Middle School, Lisa Lewis gazed at the blue sky, the leaves falling, the gardens and walking paths and talked about what a great place the spot will be to spend time with her grandchildren.

“It’s going to be great living here,” the 55-year-old Lewis, Hodgkins School Apartments’ first tenant to move in, said recently. “It’s a very safe, quiet environment here. It going to be a really nice space for the elderly.”

Tenants started moving in last week at the former school off Malta Street in Augusta, which was converted, in an $8.5 million Augusta Housing Authority project, to affordable housing for people 55 and older.

In 2014, City Manager William Bridgeo speculated the city probably would need to demolish the former school, which closed as a middle school in 2009, because it hadn’t been heated or maintained, the roof leaked, and the building had fallen into disrepair.

Instead, starting in 2015, the school was turned over to the housing authority, on a 90-year lease for $1 a year, and it was renovated, preserved and converted into 47 apartments.

The renovation, funded by both historic preservation and low-income housing tax credits, as well as a loan taken out by the authority, retained the school feel of the building while making it welcoming to tenants. Amanda Bartlett, the housing authority’s director, said the design team, including workers from subcontractor Workplace Transformation Facilitation, worked hard to keep the retro feel of the 1958 school building. Art installations in the hallways feature old Kennebec Journal newspaper photographs of Hodgkins students, from the Kennebec Historical Society’s archive. They also feature subject-themed murals with artwork and quotations related to various school subjects.

A mural with a theme of the school subjects of home economics and industrial arts, for example, features paintings of tools and cooking utensils, and a Harriet Beecher Stowe quotation, “The power to create a HOME ought to be ranked above all creative faculties.”

Lorna Pelkey, 75, who moved into her large one-bedroom apartment on a lower floor of Hodgkins last week, said the inspirational quotations are one of her favorite things in the building. She said she thinks the building, where her two now-adult sons attended school, should be a fantastic place to live.

“It feels like home already,” she said last week as she took a break from arranging furniture in her new place.

Pelkey moved to Hodgkins from her house in Augusta, which she said she thought she’d sold, only to have the deal fall through. She said it was time to leave her home, and to leave the responsibility for taking care of it and heating it.

“There isn’t a whole lot of senior housing around,” she said. “I felt like it was time to downsize.”

Rents in the units range from $498 to $606 a month for efficiency units, and $531 to 647 a month for one-bedroom units.

Rent includes heat, air conditioning and hot water, but not electricity. Each of the units has a dishwasher.

Pelkey said that was one thing that attracted her to the building — how much is included for the rent charged.

UNMET DEMAND

Some of the apartments will be rented to tenants with annual incomes of 50 percent or less of the median area income, while others will be rented to tenants with incomes of 60 percent or less of the median area income. For a single person, those income limits are around $25,000; for a couple, around $28,000.

There are eight efficiency apartments and 39 one-bedroom apartments.

So far 10 apartments have been rented, and 40 applications are in the review process. Bartlett said tenants must meet income restrictions and undergo background and reference checks to be accepted into Hodgkins School Apartments.

Bartlett is confident the units will all be filled.

She said the Augusta Housing Authority will seek to carry out other housing development projects, adding that Augusta and the rest of Maine are short of housing for senior citizens.

“The Augusta housing stock is so old it makes it hard to for seniors to age in place,” she said. “We get a lot of calls from folks looking for housing that works for seniors. Even with this and the Cony Flatiron and other facilities, it doesn’t make a dent in the need. We’ll try to do what we can to meet the need for affordable housing in the city.”

The housing authority, Bartlett said, probably will make about $250,000 in profit on the project, from its share of the developer’s fee. She said the authority would use that to fund other housing projects.

Hodgkins was the first housing project that the quasi-municipal entity developed directly. Previously, before Bartlett’s arrival, the organization’s main role was to administer federal housing voucher programs.

Outside, the site has what officials call a healing garden on one side, and raised garden beds for tenants to use on the opposite site.

The site also has walking paths, and there are hiking trails leading into the woods surrounding it.

There is also a city-owned pickleball court and athletic fields next to the property.

Bartlett said the project has been selected as a winner of a preservation award by Maine Preservation.

Several skylights, covered up over the years, were uncovered as part of the project, which also restored the building’s original ceiling heights, which vary but, in the main corridor, are about 10.5 feet high.

The cafeteria area was turned into a community gathering space with tables and chairs adjacent to the school’s former stage. The stage was retained but Bartlett said it is not meant for use by residents, as it does not meet accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some of the old school lockers were retained in hallways, though they are bolted shut.

The school’s gymnasium has been split into two levels of units, four on each level. The upper four units are the only ones that require stairs to get to.

All the rest are accessible through ground-level entrances, according to developer and project partner Kevin Bunker, of Portland-based Developers Collaborative. Not all units will be accessible from the same level, though, as the building has multiple levels within it. Each level, however, has its own entrance from the outside. Each of the four levels also has its own laundry room, so residents won’t have to walk up and down stairs with their laundry.

The building does not have an elevator.

‘OWN LITTLE NOOK’

Bartlett said five of the units are fully accessible to people with disabilities, but more of the units easily could be converted to be.

Lewis said before she committed herself to her apartment at Hodgkins, she was also on the waiting list for an apartment at Cony Flatiron Senior Residence, which was converted by Housing Initiatives of New England Corp. into senior housing. She said, ironically, that she learned at nearly the same time that she had been accepted to both buildings. She said the flatiron building “is absolutely gorgeous, and beautiful,” but she chose the Hodgkins apartment instead because of its quieter, more rural setting. She said it was a hard decision because both facilities turned out so well.

Lewis, who still works in her small cleaning business, moved to Hodgkins from another apartment in Augusta. She said she was “eager to find my own little nook.”

The property will be managed by C&C Realty Management, of Augusta. The firm, which has information on the Hodgkins property on its website at www.ccrealtymanagement.com, is also handling renting out the units. Those interested in applying to live there may reach the management company at 621-7700.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj