A Portland-based affordable-housing developer has submitted a proposal to restore the Central Building on the Stevens Commons property as housing for the elderly.
If the plans by Community Housing of Maine are approved, it will be a large step toward redevelopment of the former Stevens School property just off Winthrop Street.
Community Housing of Maine has signed a purchase option and submitted an application to the Hallowell Planning Board “for a multi-million dollar historic restoration of the 25,000-square-foot Central Building into affordable apartments for seniors,” according to a news release from Community Housing of Maine.
“The project will be similar to the renovation of the Cony High School Flatiron Building in Augusta,” according to the release. “Residents will have access to new city streets, sidewalks and trails which surround a lush public green and gardens which will host a variety of events such as the Farmers Market, chamber music events and other outdoor activities.”
In the news release, Matt Morrill, of Mastway Development, which owns the property, says, “This is another important step for Stevens Commons and will bring new residents, new jobs and new tax dollars to the City of Hallowell.” Mastway bought the nearly 53-acre campus for $215,000 a year ago. The state had sought to sell it for 10 years.
Stevens School was built in the late 1870s as a boarding school for girls, and in more recent years it was occupied by state offices and other agencies.
Affordable housing was one of the uses discussed for the property. A $2.36 million bond package approved by the Hallowell City Council will go up for referendum April 28 and includes $600,000 worth of aid to help fix roads and sidewalks in Stevens Commons that would be owned and maintained by the city. Other projects in the same bond include $585,000 for the Water Street reconstruction project, $535,000 for rural Hallowell road maintenance, $300,000 for downtown parking improvements and $220,000 to restore the fire station’s wooden tower.
Erin Cooperrider, development director for Community Housing of Maine, said, “We are very pleased to be a small part of this important rehabilitation project in Hallowell, and we are looking forward to working with Mastway Development and the City of Hallowell to help repurpose the Central Building.”
She said she’s forecasting a cost of $3.5 million to convert the building into 30 housing units.
According to the Morrill’s master plan for developing the property, the Central Building “remains in the best condition of all of the buildings on campus. With soaring ceilings and large windows that peer down over the common and the Kennebec River, this building has a very appealing layout.” The master plan is included on the Hallowell city website.
Community Housing of Maine, a statewide nonprofit organization, has developed properties in Kennebec County since 1995, in accordance with its mission to develop and provide housing for low-income and disadvantaged people as well as workforce and senior housing.
Cooperrider said the organization completed a similar project in 2011 in Bangor, converting a former dormitory of the Bangor Theological Seminary into 28 units for the elderly, now known as Maine Hall.
“We have done projects in 37 different communities in Maine,” Cooperrider said Thursday. “When we get involved, it’s because somebody in the community has reached out to us.”
In the case of the Hallowell project, it was a member of Morrill’s team.
Cooperrider said Community Housing of Maine previously had considered the site when the state was marketing it, but decided it was too large.
However, the organization amassed some documentation on it, including an appraisal.
“We looked at several different buildings for several different projects, and we landed on this one,” she said.
She said an architect and a structural engineer have been working on the plans and that they met with the Hallowell code enforcement officer earlier this week on the subdivision site plans process and submitted the application Wednesday, hoping to be on the Planning Board’s agenda for the board’s April 19 meeting.
“We wanted to engage with the Planning Board early on,” Cooperrider said. “It’s a big master plan thing and we need to understand very quickly what we can do there.”
She added that similar projects by Community Housing of Maine take about two years to complete.
The Cony flatiron building opened as housing for the elderly in summer 2015. Because that $11 million project by Housing Initiatives of New England was partially funded by $6.8 million from the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, residents who make more than predetermined incomes each year can’t live there.
Betty Adams — 621-5631